We first meet Moise (Pierre Boulanger), a nice-looking Jewish boy who lives with his divorced father. He is mature for his age, very responsible, and takes care of the house. Like most boys, he has an excited libido and invests a lot of his money on the hookers that work right outside of where he lives (yes, he is underaged but that never stops him, or them). His father is of the opposite temperament. He is dissatisfied with everything in his life and wishes Moise could be more like his older brother who is everything Moise is not - perfect - clearly an unhappy man whose condition only becomes worse to the point that he abandons Moise.
Moise frequents the grocery store across the street from where he lives. Its owner is Ibrahim (Omar Sharif), whom as Moise discovers is not Arab but Muslim. Underneath the unkempt appearance, Ibrahim ia an intelligent, intuitive sage brimming with wisdom. The only information about his personal life that is known is that he was once married but it is presumed, though he never made clear, that his wife has passed on. Though advanced in years, Ibrahim is mentally sharp. He knows when Moise, whom he calls "Momo", is swiping items from his store, how to treat a celebrity in town for a movie shoot, and where to go to legalize his adoption of Momo as his foster son. The friendship between Momo's and Ibrahim goes into full swing after the departure of Momo's father. Both of them embark on a road trip to Turkey in Ibrahim's brand new car.
As the wise but kind Ibrahim, Sharif is dignified without being pretentious. His lines, many of which are akin to quotes from Proverbs, are delivered with non-pompous humble casualness that reflect an inner spirit that humbly personify them. Boulanger is charming and terrific to watch. His juvenile demeanor is a retaining quality throughout all of his scenes. The only complaint about the casting is the actor playing the adult Momo, Eric Caravaca. For some reason, he does not have the same magnetic presence as Boulanger, nor does his portrayal of Momo bears any marks of someone who had an unforgettable life-changing experience as a teen.
A few things make Monsieur Ibrahim a fun movie to watch. One, it is the presence of hookers. Love them or hate them, their appearance usually mean a generous amount of gratuitous sex to follow, and they do not disappoint. Two, the pranks that Momo plays on his father by serving him dinner made from pet food are priceless. Three, the use of pre-60's style R&B music not only to set the timeframe of the story but also to convey Momo's feelings. A brassy instrumental track frequently repeats itself to emphasize Momo's good mood and upbeat disposition.
Most important of all is how director Francois Dupeyron tells the story. It is already given that Momo is Jewish and Ibrahim is Muslim, so Dupeyron does not need to dwell on that. Instead, he delves into their characters beneath the ethnic labels and brings out inner emotions that everyone can relate to: need for friendship and father figure, abandonment, loss of a loved one, life-changing experiences, and the travails of being a teen (in Momo's case) and an old man (in Ibrahim's case). Regardless of one's race or culture, the themes are easily accessible.
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