Cinema legend Sophia Loren: “It’s too early to remember”

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“He knows me very well – every inch of my face, of my heart, of my soul.” Sophia Loren talks about her son, Edoardo Ponti, who co-wrote and directed his next film, Life to come, his first film in six years.

It’s the perfect star vehicle for the 86-year-old. Loren plays Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor living in the Italian coastal town of Bari, where she forms a special friendship with Momo, a Senegalese street child. This is not the first screen version of Romain Gary’s much-loved 1975 novel. The life ahead. In a 1977 version by Moshe Mizrahi, titled Madame Rosa, Simone Signoret played the title role and the film won the Oscar for best foreign language film. Loren says she has admired Signoret for years: “She was a great and incredible actress.”

In preparation for their new version, however, Loren and his director avoided revisiting Signoret’s. She says their film is closer to the book in that “it tells the story through the young boy’s point of view.” There is also a deeper motivation to stay close to the book, as it reflects Loren’s own survival story – the poverty and hardships of his childhood in war-torn Italy.

Loren on set in Libya for the 1957 desert adventure film “Legend of the Lost” © Getty

After first appearances in small Italian films, in 1956, Loren moved to Hollywood for a five-film contract with Paramount. But Hollywood didn’t like her and she made one trivial movie after another – Boy on a dolphin with Alain Ladd, Legend of the Lost with John Wayne, It all started in Naples with Clark Gable – before playing with Cary Grant in Pride and passion (1957) and Barge (1958). His high-profile romance with Grant came to an abrupt end, and in 1957 Loren married Italian producer Carlo Ponti, who had been instrumental in launching his career. They stayed together until Ponti’s death in 2007.

A return to Italy in 1960 earned her the best film role of her career, as Cesira, a widowed trader fleeing Rome with her daughter, in Vittorio De Sica Two women (based on the story of Alberto Moravia La ciociara). For this, she received the Oscar for Best Actress in 1961, the first actor in Academy history to win the coveted prize for a foreign language film. Located during the second world war, Two women depicts the horrors of survival, including a brutal gang rape of Loren’s character and her teenage daughter by soldiers inside a church.

Loren as Cesira and Eleonora Brown as Rosetta in
Loren as Cesira and Eleonora Brown as Rosetta in “Two Women” by Vittorio De Sica (1960) © Getty

Alongside this film, Loren distinguished Human voice (2014), also headed by his son, as “the [two] the most difficult films I have made in my life ”. Based on the 1930 Jean Cocteau one-act play, Loren’s version transported the setting to Naples around 1950, with Loren as Angela, a woman who rides an emotional roller coaster in one final conversation. phone with the man she loves. “It’s a short play, one act, but it’s incredibly long when you do it. I understand why so many actresses want to do it – it’s a tour de force, because of the strength and violence of that kind of passionate love, and the sadness at the end.

Loren is eager, she said, to see the most recent version of The human voice, directed by Pedro Almodóvar and performed by Tilda Swinton, which premiered last month at the Venice Film Festival.

Loren in 'The Human Voice' (2014), directed by his son, Edoardo Ponti
Loren in ‘The Human Voice’ (2014), directed by his son, Edoardo Ponti © Alamy

Ponti explains the process of working with his mother on this film. “We shot Human voice for 10 days, but we rehearsed for over three weeks. My mom is not an actress who likes to rehearse, she is very instinctive, but I told her, “we need the repetition to shape the emotional arc of your performance, to personalize each line”. We talked about her life and her loves, and it was truly an amazing experience, as I learned facts about my mother that I didn’t know.

Life to come was a challenge in a different way. “I bonded very personally with Madame Rosa, because it brought back memories of my life when we had the war in Italy and I was a little girl,” says Loren. “There was a lot of suffering, because we had bombs every night. It was impossible to go to school, it was impossible to eat. It was impossible to live with.

Edoardo Ponti directs his mother and Abril Zamora on the set of
Edoardo Ponti directs his mother and Abril Zamora on the set of “The Life Ahead”

She is full of praise for her co-star Ibrahima Gueye, who plays Momo, a Senegalese immigrant to Italy who was 11 at the time of filming. “A lot of people don’t see immigrants and refugees as human beings, they walk past them on the streets, and yet they are a world apart,” says Loren. “In Madame Rosa and Momo’s friendship story, everything separates them – age, race, religion, culture – and yet, in the end, they are both survivors. They connect through the pain and the fact that they were both raised without a family. “

For Loren, despite the sad end of the story, Life to come “Is more a question of rebirth than of mortality. What Madame Rosa transmits to Momo is her mind, her heart, what she has learned from life. In doing so, we never talked about dying, we talked about what it means to start something new.

Ibrahima Gueye, Loren's co-star in
Ibrahima Gueye, Loren’s co-star in “The Life Ahead”

She sees a powerful contemporary message in the film. “The world needs empathy, the world needs to come together, we are torn apart by social media, by politics, by some leaders. We must find ways to bring people together and Life to come try to do just that.

While for Loren “Italy will always be in my heart”, she has lived for many years in Geneva, which she describes as “very peaceful”.

“It’s very close to Italy, so whenever I want to go to Rome I take the train. I have traveled a lot so I really enjoy staying at home, looking at my books, going for a walk in the park, alone and with friends.

Producer Carlo Ponti and Loren with their sons Carlo Jr (right) and Edoardo in the 1970s
Producer Carlo Ponti and Loren with their sons Carlo Jr (right) and Edoardo in the 1970s © Getty

“My approach to life is very simple. Ordinary life inspires me and my family inspires me. I have two beautiful children [her elder son, Carlo Ponti Jr, 51, is a conductor] and they gave me grandchildren, so I am surrounded by great love every day.

Loren doesn’t plan to retire if that means staying inactive or reflecting on his legacy as a world-famous star, although this year marks the 70th anniversary of his first performance in cinema, as an extra, ahead of a stellar career. which includes dozens of films as well as several singles and albums. “It’s a little too early to think about [retiring]She said, “I’m still alive, I’m still full of things I want to do. It is premature to remember this. No, no, no, it’s too early.

“The Life Ahead” is on Netflix and in select theaters from November 13


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