Magazine article The Christian Century

Common Ground

Magazine article The Christian Century

Common Ground

Article excerpt

THE GENTEEL French film Monsieur Ibrahim, directed by Francois Dupeyron, is based on the book Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran, by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, who also coscripted the movie. It is a tender story about a Turkish Muslim and a French Jew. The setting is 1960s Paris, in the gritty but colorful Rue Bleue district, once infamous for its assortment of streetwalkers.

Living in a dark apartment above the street is Momo (his real name is Moses), a pensive teenager who thinks a lot about sex. The film opens with him smashing his piggy bank and using his savings to pay for the loss of his virginity. He does this without the knowledge of his father, a depressed penny-pincher who is obsessed with the wife who left him (Momo's mother) and his own unrealized dreams.

Also living in the neighborhood is the "Arab," the soft-spoken Monsieur Ibrahim, who runs the local convenience store (his pates and champagne are popular with the hookers). The film centers on the relationship between Momo and Ibrahim, who gives the boy advice on matters of life (his distant father), loss (his absent mother), and love (the pretty gift who lives next door).

Rather than dwell on the differences between Jews and Arabs, Monsieur Ibrahim focuses on the similarities, right down to a "We're both circumcised" scene at a local bathhouse. Much of the wisdom Ibrahim preaches comes directly from the Qur'an (or as Ibrahim calls it, "my Qur'an"), a book unfamiliar to Momo but which he comes to respect as he observes its subtle teachings in action.

The film has a bizarre subplot involving the shooting of a scene in Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 film Contempt. This inclusion not only establishes the era and allows Ibrahim to overcharge Brigitte Bardot (played by French star Isabelle Adjani) for a bottle of water, but it plants in his head the crazy idea of buying a red sports car like the one in the film so he can take Momo on a journey to the Middle East.

The heart and soul of the film lies in the inspired casting of onetime screen idol Omar Sharif as Ibrahim. He brings a lightness to a role that could otherwise be played with severity. He conveys the sense that he understands what Momo (played by Pierre Boulanger) is going through (including his penchant for shoplifting), while suggesting that he is borrowing the young boy's sense of discovery in order to break away from the, grocery and return to the land of his birth. …

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