Monsieur Ibrahim (French)

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Young Moses Schmitt (his friends call him Momo) is a boy without guidance. He lives with his father in a Paris flat that has a full view of the neighborhood prostitutes on the street below. Dad hasn’t quite reassembled his life after Mom left them years ago, if indeed he ever had it together to begin with, and so Momo is left to his own devices, to ogle the hookers and fantasize about hiring one. Lucky for Momo, there is Monsieur Ibrahim.

“Monsieur Ibrahim” is a sweet, simple movie based on the memoirs of French writer Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, who also wrote the screenplay. It is set in the 1950s, with early rock music on the soundtrack and playing in the streets of Paris through which Momo (Pierre Boulanger) wanders.

We don’t know how old Momo is, only that he’s lying when he tells the hookers he’s 16. He has to do most of the cooking and cleaning for his dad, and hence is sent frequently to the local market for supplies. The market is run by Ibrahim (Omar Sharif), a smiling old Turkish Muslim whose status as a neighborhood fixture is sure. He knows Momo swipes candy bars from him, and doesn’t much care. Better he should steal from him than from some other, less understanding shopkeeper.

The old man and the boy develop a friendship over the course of their many transactions, and it grows stronger when Momo’s father (Gilbert Melki) loses his job and deserts Momo altogether. Momo has suffered from self-esteem issues in the past, always being compared and comparing himself to other boys, and this setback doesn’t help any. Ibrahim coaches him with life lessons he’s learned from his Koran, or by extrapolation therefrom, like the importance of smiling, which Momo soon uses to his advantage with his favorite hooker (an effect Ibrahim probably did not intend).

Director Francois Depeyron evokes the look and feel of nostalgia extremely well, recalling films like “Cinema Paradiso” for their wistfulness and charm. And he benefits greatly from his two stars: Pierre Boulanger has the handsome young face of a future movie star; Omar Sharif has the character-filled old face of a former one. Boulanger, a newcomer, is particularly impressive as young Momo, in that he is never overshadowed by the decades of experience and skill that Sharif has on him. They seem very much like equals on the screen. You will enjoy watching them together.

B+ (1 hr., 30 min.; French with subtitles; R, some sexuality.)

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