Momo and the man
Omar Sharif, now in his 70s, turns in a quiet, glowing performance in the title role of the new French film Monsieur Ibrahim, and the grave warmth of his presence is the most appealing element in what is also a charming, intelligent little movie in a feel-good mode.
But the real protagonist of Francois Dupeyron’s movie is Momo (Pierre Boulanger), a resourceful teenager who lives with his erratic and troubled father (Gilbert Melki) in a Jewish neighborhood of Paris where Ibrahim, a Turkish Muslim regarded as “the Arab,” runs a tiny grocery store. A half-dozen good natured hookers work on the same street outside, and Momo is spending more and more time eyeing them in between after-school visits to the store and meals with his father.
Even before Momo’s dad disappears from his life, the kindly Ibrahim is beginning to take on the roles of mentor and surrogate father. And the mostly lyrical coming-of-age story that ensues is a modestly earthy adventure in which Momo also bonds with a couple of the hookers and finds, and loses, and finds again a girlfriend of his own.
The development of a genuine friendship between a young Jew and an elderly Muslim is, of course, a crucial part of the story’s interest, but this film steers clear of preachments and melodrama on that potentially volatile subject. Instead, it focuses with gentle grace on the process by which Momo comes to embrace Ibrahim’s calm assertion that what you give away you have forever and what you keep you are certain to lose.