A review of “Monsieur Ibrahim” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for sexual situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. In French with English subtitles

 

 

Omar Sharif knocks one out of the park as an enigmatic shop owner who befriends a lonely adolescent.

In working class Paris in the 1960s, a pair of neighborhood loners crosses destinies.  Momo (Pierre Boulanger) is a teenage Jew, living with his neglectful Dad on the rue Bleue and generally left to his own devices.  Those devices include filching food from the local emporium and saving his pennies (by thieving his dad’s book collection) for a forbidden taste of the affectionate street hookers.

The crowded dark grocery is owned by the Sufi-faithed Ibrahim (Sharif), a product of Persia’s Golden Crescent and kinder, gentler times.  Sensing a keen desperation in Momo, Ibrahim lends words of wisdom (“a smile can work wonders”) and what paternal support he can muster.  When Momo’s dad retreats into a crippling depression, it’s Ibrahim to the rescue of the boy’s increasing isolation.

Ibrahim could have played as a docile father-son buddy picture, but it’s much more.  As Momo explores his budding sexuality and navigates the tribulations of his first love, Ibrahim staves off the tranquilization of his twilight years, reveling in the energy is his newfound friendship.  The film travels south, literally and figuratively, when Momo and Ibrahim set off on a road trip to Ibrahim’s native land; a journey that shrewdly alters the landscape and the film’s narrative momentum.

Sharif has still got it in spades – his charisma lights up the screen and inspires satisfying images of sexy turns in Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia. Boulanger is a genuine find; encompassing everything decent and poignant about coming-of-age.