The Austin Chronicle

Monsieur Ibrahim

Rated R, 95 min. Directed by François Dupeyeron. Starring Omar Sharif, Pierre Boulanger, Gilbert Melki, Isabelle Renauld, Lola Naynmark, Anne Suarez.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., March 26, 2004

This gentle French film, set in early Sixties Paris, about the friendship between a lonely Jewish adolescent and an elderly Muslim shopkeeper marks the return of Omar Sharif to the screen after a long absence. The titular role of Monsieur Ibrahim is not a terribly taxing one, but Sharif effortlessly demonstrates that he still has the stuff that made him a star so many years ago – he exudes a charismatic appeal that is apparently timeless. (The film’s wonderful R&B and rock & roll soundtrack from the era is as timeless as he is.) A coming-of-age story of sorts, Monsieur Ibrahim depicts the growing bond between the film’s kindly title character and Momo, a young teenager who lacks a meaningful paternal presence in his life. The typical alienation that the 15-year-old Momo feels is all the more pronounced by the fleeting presence of his distant father, a depressed man who is always berating Momo for not being more like the brother who left to live elsewhere with their mother during Momo's childhood. Momo's only real companions are the prostitutes that he watches – and sometimes frequents – from his bedroom window, that is, until the silent and deceptively gruff Monsieur Ibrahim speaks to him one day in his store. The story of their subsequent relationship is relatively straightforward and uncomplicated, but there’s an unforced honesty in its telling that takes this film further than it otherwise might go. Indeed, it’s not until the two embark on a car trip to the older man’s Turkish homeland that the movie starts to wander a little off course into predictability. (The film’s limited budget is also made clear on this transcontinental excursion; director Dupeyeron uses shots of cloudy skies and voiceovers to track their journey from country to country.) As Momo, newcomer Boulanger has a fresh, unspoiled quality about him that complements Sharif’s wise and worldly father figure. They make for a genuine, unsentimental pair, a refreshing change from those manipulative movies that have foisted similar twosomes on us in the past.

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