MONSIEUR IBRAHIM is a journey from darkness to light, literally and figuratively. The guide is the M. Ibrahim (Omar Sharif) of the title, a guardian angel, metaphorically, who intervenes at the perfect moment to save Moses (Daniel Boulanger), a neighborhood kid, from despair and worse.
Moses is being raised by his dour father, a man who speaks to his son only to complain. Their book-filled apartment is kept in perpetual gloom, the better to preserve the bindings and his fathers perpetual state of depression. A cutie pie with no real direction, Moses grasps at happiness by going the carnal route via the local filles de joie, with whom he becomes a sentimental favorite, though one that still needs cash to be taken under wing, as it were.
Running a tiny grocery store in one of Paris least chic areas, Rue Bleu, Ibrahim is known as the Arab and given little thought and less respect by the residents. One day, as Moses is silently pondering the moral consequences of shoplifting from an Arab, Ibrahim tells him that hes not an Arab, hes from the Golden Crescent. From there an improbable friendship develops that by be the end of the film seems not only likely, but inevitable, as Ibrahim looks on Moses with a paternal indulgence sorely lacking from Moses father. Its an indulgence that starts with the shoplifting issue and extends to Sunday outings and, eventually, the secret of happiness itself. Hint, it comes from within. As Ibrahim puts it, smiling is not the exclusive province of happy people, its smiling itself that makes you happy. As for the tragedy of love gone wrong, he consoles Moses over the loss of the girl next door to a rival, a non-working girl, that is, by telling him that the love he has for her is his, it can never be taken away. And if she turns it down, her loss. Facile, perhaps, but, philosophically, paradigm shifting.
The issue of Moses being Jewish and Ibrahim a Sufi is barely touched upon. The film makes an exquisite point in its script and in its performances that when it comes to the human heart, such distinctions are ultimately meaningless. In doing so, it takes the Sufi approach, a branch of Islam that eschews books in favor of a direct, emotional experience of the divine, free from dogma and the often messy politics of preconceived notions.
For all its warm and fuzzy view, it is Sharifs luminous charisma, undimmed by age, that is the heart of the film. He gives a wonderfully understated performance of great depth, bringing 50 years of acting experience and a wealth of the more important life experience to the screen. A half-smile, a pursed lip, fills the screen with the warm glow of emotions deeply felt and expertly rendered. As befitting a film that lauds the joy of life, he gets to show his comedic side, showing Moses how to save money of food by passing off cat food as pate to his father, as well as negotiating the rules of the road learning how to drive before taking Moses on a pilgrimage to his homeland.
Its on that car trip that MONSIEUR IBRAHIM, man and film, transport Moses into the light. Having brightened his life, he now takes him from the dreariness of Rue Bleu, to sun-drenched countries ultimately landing in Turkey, where there is no choice but to succumb to the sheer, effortless fun of being alive in a world that was made to be enjoyed.
Never once does this film come off as preachy or sanctimonious or, heavens forefend, judgmental, though the local working girls look down their noses at the loose morals of a starlet (Isabel Adjani under a cascade of faux blonde curls) filming on their street. It is as high-spirited as it is spiritual in its examination of how to make a heaven on earth. It’s easy to fall under its spell and there’s no reason to resist. The world may seem just a little brighter after spending 94 minutes with MONSIEUR IBRAHIM.