April 15, 2004

Monsieur Ibrahim

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The unusual friendship between a young Jewish boy and an older Muslim store clerk is the basis for the surprisingly satisfying film, Monsieur Ibrahim. The setting is early 1960’s Paris, in a working class neighborhood mostly populated by a strange mix of lower-middle class Jews and motherly prostitutes. At age 16, Momo (Pierre Boulanger) is yearning to break away from his distant and cold father and experience the world around him. As Momo’s father slips more deeply into depression, he finds comfort in talking to the local Turkish shopkeeper, Monsieur Ibrahim (Omar Sharif), developing a friendship that will change them both.

For many critics and movie buffs, the return of Omar Sharif to the film has been the highlight of Monsieur Ibrahim. Sharif, who has reserved himself to sporadic roles in the past twenty five years, is perfect in the role of Ibrahim. The youthful energy hiding inside the shopkeeper is given away by Sharif’s lively eyes, which still possess the vitality that made him a super star in David Lean’s epics Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. As Ibrahim offers Momo advice on love, life, and the power of a smile, he talks to him, never at him, giving the film an easygoing and comfortable feel.

While Sharif’s performance is great, Pierre Boulanger deserves praise for his role of Momo in his first film appearance. It is through Momo’s perspective that the story of Monsieur Ibrahim is told with Boulanger as the perfect guide through the windy streets of his neighborhood.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Monsieur Ibrahim is its fluid story and amicable tone, owed largely to Francois Dupeyeron. Dupeyeron not only directed Monsieur Ibrahim, but also adapted the story to film from its original form as a play. As director, Dupeyeron, just like Ibrahim, embraces the simple beauties of life. A lively European streetscape, walking along the river, and even isolated Turkish villages become works of art in Dupeyeron’s hands. At the same time, Dupeyeron’s screenplay is equally effective at conveying the message of the film. Monsieur Ibrahim avoids the haughty and isolated tone that can sometimes be expected from other European films, leading us to wonder why, in the words of a great beer commercial, what makes foreign films so foreign? Instead of being bogged down by dialogue, the story features interesting side-plots, ranging from Momo’s relationships with the neighborhood prostitutes, to his experience with young love.

If there are any faults with Monsieur Ibrahim, it is that the storyline focuses more on Ibrahim’s advice than cinematic originality. There are no interesting camera shots or cinemagraphic elements in the film. The only other problem with the film is its conclusion.

Dupeyeron settles for a bubble gum closure to his film instead of a more open and effective ending. All in all, Monsieur Ibrahim delivers an enjoyable and touching experience. The combined talents of Dupeyeron, Sharif, and Boulanger keep the storyline focused and on track and deliver the best feel-good movie of the year thus far.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer