“They spin around their hearts.”
A young, motherless Jewish boy, Moses “Momo” Schmitt lives with his dour, unpleasant father in a Parisian slum. Moses is left to his own devices for most of the time and as an ex-facto housekeeper, he’s expected to clean the apartment, buy all the food and cook and serve the meals. Evenings begin with Mr. Schmitt arriving home, and turning off whatever music Moses is listening to. After Mr. Schmitt tersely diminishes Moses by some comment, the rest of the time is spent in silence.
Moses shops at the local corner shop owned by, Ibrahim Deneji (Omar Sharif). There’s an air of negative mystique to Ibrahim. Mr. Schmitt refers to him as “the Arab”, and that’s how Moses sees him too until Ibrahim one day makes a startling comment. Moses and Ibrahim form a bond, and Ibrahim assumes the male role model that Moses never had.
If this film sounds corny, it isn’t. Somehow it manages to avoid all the old tired cliches, and the film’s message is fresh and sincere. Many films would stress the Jewish/Arab friendship, and while that element exists, the story transcends to a much higher level. Ibrahim and Moses are two humans cast out into loneliness who find each other and connect. Formal religion is largely overlooked–although Moses is attracted to the Koran as Ibrahim states that the reason he is so content with life is thanks to the Koran. Ibrahim explains his beliefs, but he’s not pushy about it. Ibrahim is Muslim, and he’s also a Sufi. He’s managed to reach the rare state of contentment, and Moses is attracted to Ibrahim’s spirituality as much as anything else.
Monsieur Ibrahim (AKA Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran) from director Francois Dupeyron is Omar Sharif’s film. He delivers an extraordinary performance as the aging shopkeeper. He possesses depths of character which are explored as the film progresses, and Sharif plays with role with exquisite grace and containment. The film begins as a fairly standard coming-of-age story replete with Moses ogling Parisian streetwalkers. But once the film shifts into the relationship between Moses and Ibrahim, the story is at once solid and meaningful. I don’t think you have to be a foreign film fan to find this film’s appeal.