Film

Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

Ibrahim is the sage, charismatic, and plainly desired father figure in this sentimental tale.


Monsieur Ibrahim Et Les Fleurs Du Coran

Cast: Omar Sharif, Pierre Boulanger, Gilbert Melki, Anne Suarez, Isabelle Renauld
Director: #231;ois Dupeyron
Display Artist: François Dupeyron
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Distributor: Columbia
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-12-05 (Limited release)

Gazing out his window on the Place Pigalle in Paris, young Moses (Pierre Boulanger) is distracted and uncertain. While Timmy Thomas' "Everybody Wants to Live Together" fills the soundtrack (the time is mid-1960s), Moses plans his first foray into sex, a date with one of the hookers who work Rue Bleue ("How much for a quickie?", he practices, posing with his fedora in the mirror). At the same time, he remains a child, utterly unable to resist his urge to toss a glass of water on his red-haired neighbor, Myriam (Lola Naynmark), practicing the latest dance steps in the alleyway between their homes.

In this first sequence in Monsieur Ibrahim, Moses appears a typical teenaged boy, trying out his masculine prerogative and simultaneously unsure of what he wants. Adapted from Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's novel (also a play) by director François Dupeyron and shrewdly shot (primarily with handheld camera) by Rémy Chevrin, the film delicately evokes the perplexities of male adolescence. Drawn especially to the stunning Fatou (Mata Gabin), a black prostitute who wears a blond wig and green summer dress, Moses approaches her; recognizing him as the boy who lives "over there," she turns him down, not believing his assertion that he's 16.

At the same time, Moses is feeling frustrated at home. His father (Gilbert Melki) is increasingly depressed and distant, insisting that the curtains remain closed because sunlight damages his book bindings (his library shelves are crammed full). Each evening he arrives home, clicks off his son's rock music, chain-smokes, and downs laxatives (his failing bodily functions reflecting his emotional state), occasionally comparing Moses to a long gone older brother. According to the father, Paulie was bookish and deferential ("Your brother never put down the dictionary"), whereas Moses, jangling with repressed energy, very much in the present, seems rebellious. Exasperated as he prepares dinner, Moses retorts, "He never did the shopping."

With his father more and more withdrawn and ineffectual, Moses must look after household chores. Repeatedly sent across to the street to "the Arab's" to buy toilet paper and foodstuffs, he finds another outlet for resistance: he steals cans of food from the shop, thinking that the proprietor, Monsieur Ibrahim (Omar Sharif), doesn't notice. While the Jewish Moses is initially inclined to dismiss Ibrahim as an "Arab" (taking the term for convenience store literally, or, as Ibrahim puts it, "Arab means open from 8am to midnight"), the old man corrects him: he's a Sufi from the Golden Crescent.

Ibrahim -- the sage, charismatic, and plainly desired father figure in this sentimental tale -- sees other details of Moses' daily existence. He sees him with the prostitutes, (Moses is at last serviced by Sylvie [Anne Suarez], who observes of his penis, "It hasn't been around much"), and offers suggestions for feeding his grumpy and now jobless father on the cheap, with diluted Beaujolais and cat food passing for pâté. He also takes the boy on walks in the park and starts offering life advice that runs counter to that of Moses' father (who encouraged him to save his coins in a piggy bank, to become "rich"). Ibrahim, by contrast, encourages him to smile and ask questions rather than relying on books for answers. "What you give is yours forever," says Ibrahim, "What you keep is lost forever."

Such aphoristic instruction suits Moses well for the moment; when the old man renames him "Momo," the boy is glad for a new identity, taking it now as short for "Muhammed." Absorbing from his new friend as much "knowledge" as possible, Momo begins reading the Koran (though, as he admits, he doesn't understand most of it), even as he decides to start "dating" his neighbor Myriam. Together, the kids observe a movie shoot on their street one day, featuring a vavoomy blond (Isabelle Adjani, credited here as "The Star" and still as frighteningly youthful as she has been for the past 20 years), then spend some romance movie-ish moments of their own, holding hands and kissing by the river. She teaches him to dance, he buys her a 45, and then she betrays him in a way that recalls his abandonment by his mother (Isabelle Renauld, whose brief appearance only underlines Momo's/the film's image of the terrible mom).

Taking Momo's point of view, Monsieur Ibrahim portrays women as ranging between two limited "types." While he is enchanted by the gentle, but by-definition detached, working girls (a category that might include The Star as well), he is repeatedly disappointed by the self-centered everyday sorts who appear to reject poor Momo out of hand.

As he is also unwanted by his father, Momo is understandably relieved by the attentions paid him by the bighearted Ibrahim. Together, they travel to Turkey, where Ibrahim imparts more life lessons, including an appreciation of the joy and sensual logic of dancing (this demonstrated by a trip to a temple, where they observe a group of whirling dervishes). By the end, the film seems to have written itself into a corner, resorting to the tritest of resolutions. Given its general dependence on stereotypes and clichés -- the golden-hearted hookers, the flinty Jewish father -- the finale is not surprising, but it is disappointing.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.