Review: Monsieur Ibrahim (2003)

Life on Blue Street in Paris apparently involves encountering many French prostitutes. It’s impossible to even get to your local Turkish grocer without running into and wending your way through them. However, these prostitutes are sweet and good-natured. There are no heroin tracks on their arms. If they did not hang out on street corners all day, they might be wholesome enough to take home to Mom and Dad. Families live in and around Blue Street as well, and they include sixteen-year-old Moses (Pierre Boulanger) and his stressed out father. The prostitutes seem to come with living in the neighborhood. They form part of the local tapestry, but just a part. Also part is Monsieur Ibrahim (Omar Sharif), the local Turkish grocer. He sits on his stool fifteen hours a day and sells a modest assortment of neighborhood necessities. Ibrahim’s store and his constant presence form the de facto center of this little community.

Moses (Momo) is a devilishly handsome but shy teen who lives alone with his chronically depressed father. He never sees his absentee mother, and living with his father is at best a mixed blessing. Their apartment is covered in books but the books cannot mask his father’s depression, made much worse when he loses his job. Eventually he abandons his son altogether, leaving Momo to live by his wits on Blue Street. Survival depends on selling his father’s collection of books for income, depending on Monsieur Ibrahim for fatherly guidance and free food and on the local prostitutes for a bit of feminine nurturing.

Momo and Ibrahim make for something of an odd couple, Momo a Jew and Ibrahim a Muslim and Turk. However, both live largely lonely lives. Ibrahim sees everyone but is befriended by no one. Momo is full of social awkwardness, but in spite of his circumstance he remains a good-natured young man. Ibrahim’s wife died long ago. Both find in each other something missing in their lives. Momo finds a father figure and the example of a man whose Muslim faith steers his life with quiet conviction. Ibrahim finds some relief from a life that is otherwise unremittingly long and lonely, as well as someone he can shower with gentle affection and compassion.

Life is happening to Momo. He clumsily introduces himself to sex through one of the local prostitutes. The prostitutes, sensing a fellow lost soul, give him some of the nurturing his absent mother never provided. No social welfare worker would approve of Momo’s upbringing, but Momo is embraced by a sort of communal love anyhow.

Monsieur Ibrahim is not a movie that aspires to greatness, just to restate a lesson in life and compassion in a gentle and understated way. Sharif, a very talented actor, seems to be deliberately sequestering some of his acting skills to provide us with his gentle and understated character. Boulanger is handsome, winsome and impossible not to like, which may be why Momo succeeds where many others like him would fall through the cracks. He looks like a young Shia LaBeouf.

If you keep your expectations about this film modest, you will appreciate its tight focus, light directing and competent acting. It’s a French film, of course, so you will have to endure English subtitles. It is worth seeing if the opportunity arises, but not exceptional enough to seek it out.

3.1 on my four-point scale..

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