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Sixteen year old Jewish teenager Momo Schmitt (Pierre Boulanger) lives with his depressed father (Gilbert Melki) in a working class Paris neighbourhood in the early 1960s. Momo's only real emotional contact is with the prostitutes, who show him the affection his father is unable to display. Momo buys (and steals) groceries from a shop owned by Monsieur Ibrahim Deneji (Omar Sharif), an elderly Turkish Muslim who sees and knows more than he lets on. After being abandoned by his father Momo forms a close bond with M. Ibrahim, who offers the boy guidance and suggests he read the Koran. Together they embark on a long journey to Ibrahim's homeland - a journey that will have a profound effect on both their lives.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
After what seems like an eternity in bad pictures and bridge tournaments, 71 year-old Omar Sharif gives the best performance of his long and erratic career in this beautifully realised coming-of-age drama set in Paris in the early 1960s. Sharif retired from acting after his small role in the John McTiernan-directed turkey The 13th Warrior (who could blame him) but thankfully the character of Ibrahim persuaded him to return and his superbly understated performance was rewarded with the Best Actor prize at this year's César awards.

There's hardly a false note in this uplifting tale set in the vibrant Rue Bleue in the same year The Beatles cut their first LP. Music blasts from radios, kids are dancing in the streets and the hookers have hearts of gold as Moses "Momo" Schmitt (Pierre Boulanger) escapes the drudgery of life with his morose father (Gilbert Melki) by stealing from Monsieur Ibrahim's shop or raiding his piggy bank to visit the street girls.

The character of Momo is reminiscent of Antoine Doinel, the young hero of Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959). Like Antoine, Momo is a smart boy who seeks the guidance and inspiration his remote parents cannot provide. Antoine went to the movies; Momo visits the all-night shop run by grizzled old Sufi Ibrahim - a Turk whom everyone simply refers to as "the Arab".

From his fixed position behind the counter, Ibrahim sees much more than Momo imagines. When Ibrahim tells Momo "better you should steal here, than somewhere you could get into real trouble" it opens up a trust between the young Jew and the old Muslim. Ibrahim sees that Momo needs a helping hand and he provides it by quoting from the Koran and teaching Momo to appreciate the beauty of small moments and the simple act of smiling. As their relationship develops it becomes clear that Ibrahim is searching for an escape of his own. "I am not an Arab, I am from the Golden Crescent" he says proudly, and through Momo he finds the courage to make a pilgrimage to Turkey that occupies the final third of the film.

Though filled with marvellous sights including a trio of whirling dervishes in full spin, Monsieur Ibrahim is much stronger in the first two acts as it glides around this tiny Parisian intersection and explores the intricate relationships of its inhabitants and even stops for a wonderful cameo by Isabelle Adjani as a Bardot-esque movie star shooting a scene for a movie. Her brief visit to Ibrahim's shop to buy water is just one of the many gems in a film loaded with sharp observations of the human condition and one that is proudly optimistic about the possibilities of Jews and Muslims finding common ground.

To its great credit the screenplay never allows its spiritual questions and metaphysical reflections to take on a sermonising note. It is done with grace and dignity and by the end one cannot help wishing that the spirit of Ibrahim and Momo could infiltrate the minds of those involved in the continually fruitless negotiations between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East. In its unpretentious and generous way, Monsieur Ibrahim is one of the most accomplished and satisfying films of the year.

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Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran

CAST: Omar Sharif, Pierre Boulange, Gilbert Melki, Isabelle Renauld, Lola Naymark, Anne Suarez, Mata Gabin, Céline Samie, Isabelle Adjani

PRODUCER: Laurent Pétin, Michèle Pétin

DIRECTOR: François Dupeyron

SCRIPT: François Dupeyron (novel by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt)


EDITOR: Dominique Faysse

MUSIC: Not credited


RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: May 20, 2004; Melbourne: July 15, 2004; Adelaide: September 2, 2004

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