Monsieur Ibrahim (2003)

“Summer of Film #17 of 100”:
Paris in the ’60s. I wasn’t born yet in the ’60s and so I surely wasn’t in Paris then. Neither do I know anyone who was. And yet, I know exactly how it was. The Patricia Franchini “wore a yellow t-shirt”: as she sold the New York Herald Tribune. In a small apartment, another American, Paul was having his “last tango in Paris”: In another apartment “three teenagers thought their ideas of truth, beauty, sex, love and cinema could change the world”: and maybe they did. Further down the street a lady named “Irma La Douce”: has an ex-cop in love with her, but that seems to be going nowhere.

Probably on the same street, Rue Bleue, lives a boy named Moses, Momo to his friends. He doesn’t live alone, but he might as well, since his mother left when he was young and his father comes home late in the evening only to complain about the food Momo has cooked. But none of this seems to bother him much; probably because he is sixteen and the prostitutes who line up across the street and the pretty girl next door interest him more.

The only person who really seems to understand him is the Arab, Monsieur Ibrahim(Omar Sharif) who runs the local grocery store. Of course, he’s not really an Arab, as he explains to Momo, he’s actually a Sufi from Turkey- but Arab means the guy who’s grocery store is open nights and weekends, he explains. Sort of like my Arab cell phone.

Ibrahim and Momo each fill a void in each other’s life. Ibrahim is an old man who runs the store by himself and from the way he talks with Momo you can sense he hasn’t had anyone to talk to in a long time; and he has accumulated a lot of advice waiting for eager ears. Momo on the other hand, craves a father/mother/any figure to steady himself and get on with life.

When Momo is truly abandoned, Ibrahim becomes his guardian and in a moment that for most children would be traumatizing is actually one of great relief and exhilaration. Momo has actually gained a family he never had; albeit an 80-year-old Arab widower family.

Monsieur Ibrahim is at once poignant and exhilarating; it treats the subject with tenderness without resorting to the obvious pitfall of childishness. Momo is a 16-year-old who has fended for himself most of his life; a lesser filmmaker would have given him an aggressive or petulant edge. The magic of writer/director François Dupeyron is in making Momo wide-eyed and trusting, while also obviously self-reliant.

In my film fantasy version of the ’60s Paris, maybe Momo ran into “Antoine Doinel”: ? I would imagine they would have a lot to talk about.


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