People and royalty
Queen of 1950s neorealism, Sophia Loren is now a Netflix star in a film directed by her son. Interview.
“The cold has arrived! “ exclaims the rocky voice at the end of the line, from Geneva. Her team had informed us that Ms. Loren was tired. Nay! At times, the 86-year-old actress loses track. “No capisco”, she mutters to her youngest son, Edoardo Ponti, who acts as translator. But Sophia Loren has all her head. She says “darling” with tenderness, even disuse, readily jokes and laughs heartily. The Italian mamma is full of praise for her offspring and kisses him loudly when he compliments her. “You have seen how wonderful he is, my son! “ Their complicity jumps to the ears.
Several times, mother and son had already tried their hand at the cinema. She is his favorite actress, he is now his favorite director. By offering him The life ahead, of Romain Gary, Edoardo was unaware that he would trigger such passions. Ten years after her last film, the actress wanted to find the spotlight. In Madame Rosa, Sophia Loren is overwhelming. Belle, going from clairvoyance to madness in the snap of her fingers. “A woman of her age who has nothing more to prove and still risks approaching a character so complex in terms of acting, it’s incredible”, estimates the director. This tragic fate of a woman deported to Auschwitz, a former prostitute who takes in lost children, once played by Simone Signoret, has served as a time machine. The actress saw herself as a teenager in Pozzuoli, Miss Elegance under the name of Sofia Scicolone, surrounded by war and poverty. “Hunger was the dominant theme of my childhood”, she writes in her Memoirs.
“This film is the occasion to mark the beginning of the new golden age of Italian cinema”, dares Sara Furio, manager at Netflix Italy
The one over whom age has no hold remembers like it was yesterday La Ciociara, which won her her Oscar in 1962. She remains to this day one of the rare transalpine actresses to have left with the statuette. Cary Grant, Marcello Mastroianni, Clark Gable, Charlton Heston or Marlon Brando, whom she describes as “An introvert not knowing what to do with his immense talent”, all gave him the answer. And when Chaplin called her to offer to be his “Countess of Hong Kong”, she thought it was a joke. “Under his direction, I would have been ready to recite the telephone directory”, she says. Her memories seem unreal. It is the memory of a bygone era, of a vanished cinema that contemporary directors have fun revisiting. But Sophia Loren prefers to live in the present. That of video on demand platforms. It was the mother-son duo who contacted Netflix to be supported in the rewriting of Gary’s story. And for them the teams took risks. Sophia Loren is well worth a few tens of thousands of dollars … “What really matters is the power of the story”, justifies the platform. The American giant has jumped on the bandwagon of European auteur cinema.
In Bari, gentleness and contemplation highlight a cast of junior and senior talents. “This film is the occasion to mark the beginning of the new golden age of Italian cinema”, dares Sara Furio, manager at Netflix Italy. Fortunately, we will always have Italian Wedding, A Special Day and other Arabesque. The magic of cinema… and streaming. To the question: “Are you happy? », Sophia laughs loudly and replies: ” Of course ! More than ever ! “
Rosa is one of the most beautiful characters that I have had the honor to play. In many ways she reminds me of my mother
Paris Match. Ten years without turning is a long time. Did you need Romain Gary to bring you back to the sets?
Sophia Loren. I had a wonderful feeling when I found out about her story. The story of this woman touched me. It says a lot about our company. It is a criticism of the human. There is something new, different.
When you’re an actress, do you stay that way for life?
This profession has been in my heart for years. With each film, I give everything I have, as if it was the first time. You know, at my age, it’s not as easy as it used to be to be wrapped up in a script. This is one of the best I have ever had. I could have refused, I don’t need to shoot anymore, but it was love at first sight! I said to Edoardo: “We have to do it, let’s try to talk to Romain Gary’s son.” It was quite an obstacle course, but we did it!
Madame Rosa is a generous woman, but flayed alive. How do you find yourself in it?
She is one of the most beautiful characters that I have had the honor to play. In many ways, she reminds me of my mother, in her way of being, in her character. I think that’s why I was very involved in the role right away. My mother is… was, sorry, a wonderful being. She was not strong but she was very nice. Beneath the smiles, there was so much fragility and suffering… She looked like two drops of water like Greta Garbo. She would have loved to be an actress …
With my son it’s a real collaboration, as fun as it is interesting.
Do you always prepare the same way for a role?
Of course, nothing has changed. When I launch into a feature film, I read as many things as possible, I think about it for a long time. The character does not leave me for months, I live with him from evening to morning.
Your son is now your favorite director …
I love working with him, and it’s mutual. It can be complicated. Sometimes we have disagreements, but we discuss the direction to take, we discuss the text, and we laugh a lot … It’s a real collaboration, as fun as it is interesting. He knows how I perceive my profession, who I am, how I react. It’s very friendly after all. We are very close, my God! Almost like he was my son! [Elle rit.]
I am also very surprised that Netflix followed us in the project. “Life in front of you” will be seen around the world.
Your character saves children who are not his. Could you have done this?
I grew up during World War II. I saw a lot of men and women who weren’t together and took care of kids who weren’t theirs. We were all living the same nightmare, we had to help each other. We had no other option but to support each other. So yes, I would have taken in Momo, instead of Madame Rosa.
In the film, Momo claims that old age causes people to forget who they are …
[Elle rit.] You know, as soon as we are born, we get old! Everyone is getting old! It is the path of life. The difference is, what’s important when you’re 30 isn’t important when you’re 80. Existence works that way. We mature, we grow. If you continue to be well over 80, as I think you are, then you are fine! I’m fine, at least at this point! I have not had any problems with old age, I have always thought that today and tomorrow are more important than yesterday. I cherish what I have accomplished. I wake up every day with the will to embark on new adventures. This is what makes my life so exciting.
What will never change in cinema is the desire to tell great stories that can change the way viewers perceive life.
It’s surprising to see an actress like you, a star of Italian neorealism, in a film broadcast and produced by Netflix.
I watch Netflix. I started to The Crown, that I love ! I watched everything very quickly, I was fascinated by the series. I am also very surprised that the American platform followed us in the project. “Life in front of you” will be seen around the world. This is the first time that this has happened for one of my films! It is exciting and moving. It’s beautiful, when you think about it …
Isn’t that a way of denying cinema?
Cinema is a fabulous art. What will never change in this industry is the desire to tell great stories that can change the way viewers view life. What has evolved is the way we tell them. But the message is the same.
What’s the last big movie you saw?
Mine ! I discovered it this morning. I cried, and cried again… I said to myself: “My God, you are very lucky!”
If you had to keep only one title in your long career …
Without hesitation, La Ciociara, where I was managed by Vittorio De Sica. It was very complex to revive the context of the war in Italy, to relive what I had experienced a few years before… The role was hard to play. Besides, I never thought he would win me an Oscar, especially for an Italian film. But Vittorio was the best director for this kind of film.
Will we see you on a screen, big or small?
Be happy with that one already. We’ll see after ! [Elle rit.] But yes, I would like. Obviously I want it! I love my work.