‘Ibrahim’ is subtle but enthralling tale

    On his birthday, a pre-pubescent boy shatters his piggy bank, offers his life’s savings to a whore, and loses his virginity. So begins Francois Dupeyron’s masterpiece, “Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran.” Adapted from the play written by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, this beautiful film quietly offers unique and thoughtful perspectives on a boy’s coming-of-age in a matter that makes it an aesthetic treat.

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

    “Monsieur Ibrahim” is to Paris what “Dirty Pretty Things” is to London. Dupeyron’s portrayal of Paris is as offbeat as the plot of a Sufi man and Jewish boy becoming friends. Instead of showing cliché scenes like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre museum and the Seine River, Dupeyron shows the audience small brick roads, working class neighborhoods, prostitutes strutting in the streets and old, oppressive homes. By showing everyday scenes, he makes Paris more accessible. This lends a universal and realistic quality to the film — it is a relief to watch a movie set in Paris without it being treated as a character.

    Omar Sharif does a fantastic job as Monsieur Ibrahim, the local grocer who everyone believes to be Arab and takes for granted. He slowly develops a friendship with Momo (Pierre Boulanger), a local boy who comes in to buy groceries and to turn his pocket change into paper money in order to sleep with the local prostitutes. Ibrahim’s character is sage-like — he gives Momo little bits of advice to make his frustrating home life better, and to boost his self-confidence. Sharif could have really botched up his “wise” lines by making them sound pretentious, but he delivers them flawlessly, often inspiring the viewer as well as Momo.

    Boulanger plays the part of Momo beautifully. He brilliantly showcases the character’s inner turmoil and desperate struggle to be independent and grown up without overdoing it. The theme of a boy’s coming of age has been explored in various movies, but this is a rare one that does it in a subtle and beautiful way.

    “Monsieur Ibrahim” would be nothing without its superb cinematography and plot. The smooth camera work and clean editing lends a sense of sereneness to the film, enhancing it. Scenes blend into each other seamlessly. The switch in setting to Turkey halfway through the movie would have been utterly disastrous and very confusing with bad editing, but it does not present a problem here. Cinephiles will be pleased to know that Dupeyron pays homage to the influential French film director Jean-Luc Godard in the movie by recreating some scenes from some of his most famous films, such as “The Contempt.” Overall, the movie has a slow pace, but it is entirely appropriate for the introspective subject material. Added to outstanding acting and good editing, “Monsieur Ibrahim” is a must-see.

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