It’s tempting to view the title character of this film as the last in a progression of Omar Sharifs. The young firebrand of “A Man in our House” makes way for the more reflective, but no less passionate Doctor Zhivago. And here we have the seventy-one-year-old Sharif making peace with his past and handing over the mantle of his successful international acting career to the next generation.
“Monsieur Ibrahim” is a sweet, insubstantial film suffused with nostalgia for a Paris that never was. Kind-hearted prostitutes solicit customers on the well-swept streets of a working-class neighborhood against a soundtrack of sixties rock ‘n roll. There’s a whiff (but just a whiff) of anti-Arab feeling, a backstory involving parental abandonment, a suicide that leaves barely a trace on the adolescent hero’s psyche. Momo’s too busy coming of age to drown in his sorrows, especially since he has Sharif’s Turkish shopkeeper character, Ibrahim, as a surrogate father.
The two go off on a jaunt in a red sports car, to visit Ibrahim’s native land. He shows Momo a couple of churches and a mosque. Then he takes him to watch a Sema ceremony in his own Sufi tradition, dervishes whirling around their hearts, as Ibrahim explains the dance. “They lose all their bearings, that burden we call balance.”
Intriguing notion, but nobody loses their balance in this film. We see Ibrahim absorbed in the dance, but as an observer. A close-up of Sharif’s beautiful face: “They become like torches. They burn in a blazing fire,” he tells Momo. That’s the young Omar Sharif talking. The firebrand, the poet, the lover. But this version renounces the dance, ending his journey in the village he left. ”I’ve arrived,” he says on his deathbed. ”I didn’t know.”
And Momo? He goes back to Paris and takes over the shop.
(26 February 2011)