Monsieur Ibrahim
directed by Francois Dupeyron
(Sony, 2003)

Momo spends a lot of time at the window of his family's Paris apartment, watching the ladies of the evening down the street ply their trade. It's easy to understand why: home life isn't exactly one of those warm, glowing experiences of early adolescence.

Mom packed up and left a long time ago. And Dad is the kind of guy who greets a rare smile from his son with the bitter observation that Momo's teeth are a mess and he'll need braces someday.

Not to mention that Momo has to bake his own birthday cake, or that he breaks his piggy bank to buy himself a birthday present: an encounter with one of the neighborhood call girls.

It sounds dark, it sounds sordid, but Monsieur Ibrahim, a French film (originally titled Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran) from director Francois Dupeyron, captures innocence, generosity and the better part of human nature while successfully walking that fine line between sweetness and saccharine.

And all of it rests on the shoulders of Pierre Boulanger, who was all of about 15 when Monsieur Ibrahim was filmed, and Omar Sharif, as the Turkish market owner, Ibrahim. It's one of the best pairings in film I've seen in quite a while.

It's a film that takes its time, a film that doesn't offer easy answers, but a film that manages to talk with all sincerity about God, about family and about the difference acts of kindness can make.

Happier outside his apartment than in it, Momo spends increasing amounts of time at Monsieur Ibrahim's shop. In Momo, Ibrahim perhaps recognizes that sense of abandonment -- or, perhaps, simply heeds the call to extend friendship. Whichever, he offers companionship and guidance to a young man; Momo, in turn, offers Ibrahim the chance to live a little, to make that human connection that's been sorely missing.

And when Momo is even more fully abandoned by his family, it is Ibrahim he turns to, and Ibrahim who steps up to take the burden.

There's lots of talk today, much of it loud, about what makes a family. About religion. About "what's wrong with teenagers." And none of it has a place here.

Instead, Dupeyron, and author Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, on whose book this is based, take a different tack: They look at what can happen not through haranguing or lecturing or ignoring a problem, but through simple connection, even across religious lines -- -- Momo is Jewish; Ibrahim, Sufi Muslim.

It'll leave you feeling the phrase "human nature" can be a positive thing. How many movies you've watched recently have done that?

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 26 February 2005

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