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Ibrahim’ fails to impress

Courtney Wilson | Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A French film with English subtitles, “Monsieur Ibrahim” is set in a poor Parisian neighborhood during the 1960s.

Pierre Boulanger plays the part of Moses – a young boy abandoned by his mother at an age too early to remember and therefore forced to live alone with his miserably-unstable and critical father (Gilbert Melki) in a red-light district of Paris.

A large portion of the movie depicts the growing frustrations of Moses’ father as he returns home every evening, increasingly more angry and depressed. But having just turned 14, Moses is more eager than ever to experience the things which, until this time, have remained distant and only observed through his bedroom window. In an attempt to portray his readiness for manhood, the movie emphasizes his overwhelming excitement to break the piggy bank of his youth in exchange for brief sexual exchanges with some local street walkers who stroll regularly through his neighborhood.

However, it is Moses’ daily trips across the street to the local food supply stores that initiate his development and heighten his sense of maturity. Monsieur Ibrahim (Omar Sharif), the store owner and a Sufi Muslim, takes a keen interest in the young Jewish boy at a very critical time in both of their lives. Each day, the boy comes into the store for his daily meal preparations, and each time he is presented with sometimes humorous and sometimes insightful comments on life as experienced by the store owner.

Comically at first, Ibrahim begins by offering “Momo” suggestions for feeding his grumpy and insolent father by encouraging him to disguise cat food as pate. Later, however, he moves on to express some abbreviated philosophical perspective on life. But through his kind words of wisdom and fatherly advice, Momo finds the parental figure that has been generally remiss throughout his life.

As a Persian from the Golden Crescent, Ibrahim is regularly stigmatized by the surrounding community as an Arab. However, as a Sufi Muslim who is both cheerful and humble, the advice he passes on to young Momo comes not only from the study of his Koran, but from his heart. One of the first suggestions Ibrahim makes to Momo is for him to smile more, as it will make him increasingly happier.

The climax is when Momo’s father loses his job and deserts him to later commit suicide. It comes as no surprise that Ibrahim is there to console his sorrows. At Momo’s own request, however, steps are taken to make Ibrahim his adopted father. Immediately the old man accepts Momo as his own son and takes him on a spiritual cross-country journey back to his homeland. This trip is meant to mark a most significant period in both their lives, as they are apparently able to open their hearts to God and one another while experiencing the beauty of the world that surrounds them.

However, as the movie nears end, the direction of its conclusion becomes noticeably limited and therefore is forcibly left with an undeniably lackluster close. Had the viewer initially been enchanted by the movie’s fairy tale-like qualities, the story’s mediocre conclusion would likely prove disappointing. While it is easy to uncover the overall positivity and mediocre life themes, the plot never fully delves into any underlying issues such as racism and class distinction.

While “Monsieur Ibrahim” is obviously a movie dedicated to straightforward spirituality and kindhearted pleasures, it still lacks enough motivational qualities to hold any long lasting impression.