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March 12, 2004 - Image 51

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-03-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Zhivago and Funny Girl.

Shard's star has dimmed over the
years, and he turns up dapper but
unshaven for his interviews. But he is
exceedingly kind and generous, with
none of the imperiousness that movie
stars of earlier generations often display.
Although he was impressed with the
screenplay by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
(which the French Jewish writer adapt-
ed from his autobiographical play),
Sharif confesses to an ulterior motive
for making Monsieur Ibrahim.
"I thought that it was time for me to
make my little statement about" the
tense state of relations between Jews and
Arabs, he says with a chuckle, "because
I'm a respected person in the Middle
East and the Arab world. I mean, not
respected but loved, anyway."
Sharif laughs again. "I have some peo-
ple who hate me as well, usually in the
press. But I wanted to say that it is possi-
ble to love each other and to live togeth-
er. It's not some huge message, and it
won't have any effect, unfortunately."
Religion is not an issue in Monsieur
Ibrahim, although the shopkeeper's for-
eign appearance and habits fascinate the
boy, Momo. Their friendship originates
with grocery transactions, and then
deepens as Momo finds himself in need
of a father's guidance.
The cultural and generational differ-

Ibrahim isn't some invisible
stranger — "the spook sitting by the
door, to borrow a phrase from
another time and place — but a
neighborhood fixture who sizes up
every customer.
He knows that Momo lives alone
with his father, and is charged with
the daily task of buying and fixing
dinner. And Ibrahim knows that
Momo, while hardly a juvenile delin-
quent, doesn't receive much adult
supervision or guidance.
In the glimpses he provides of
MOMO'S father, director Francois
Dupeyron (working from a screen-
play adapted from Eric-Emmanuel
Schmitt's autobiographical play)
presents a man scarred by the past
and miserable in the present.
The nature of his trauma isn't stat-
ed, although an early cut of the film
included a scene that implied that he
had lost his parents in the Holocaust.
Morro, hooked on pop music and
under the influence of his hormones, is
less interested in painful family history
than in polishing his technique with
working girls. But for all his self-assur-
ance, he yearns for a fatherly influence.

ences between Ibrahim and Momo fade
as they forge a bond of mutual respect.
Momo learns that there is much more
to a person than meets the eye, and that
an unlikely stranger can turn out to be
a major influence.
It is hardly a controversial theme, and
unlikely to provoke columns like those
that castigated Sharif in the Egyptian
press for making Funny Girl during the
Six-Day War.
"Somebody wrote a terrible article
saying, 'This man is a traitor, take his
passport away, he's kissing Barbra
Streisand who helps Israel.' So the press
here asked me, 'What [do] you think
about the Arab papers saying that you
are a traitor?'
"I said, 'I never ask a girl her religion
or her nationality before I kiss her.'" 17

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Gradually and without contrivance,
the film constructs a bond between
Ibrahim and Momo. As the story pro-
gresses, it's clear that Momo has adopt-
ed Ibrahim as his surrogate father.
In keeping with the generous and
low-key spirit of the film, their religious
differences are beside the point. There's
a scene where Momo is surprised to
learn that Ibrahim is circumcised, and
the older man explains that Arabs and
Jews are children of Abraham.
That sequence and the presence of
Timmy Thomas' entrancing "Why
Can't We Live Together?" on the
soundtrack are the only nods toward
the ongoing strife between Jews and
Arabs. To its credit, Monsieur
Ibrahim is about people, not politics.
Even more surprising is the deft
and delicate way in which it segues
from the carnal to the spiritual —
from the profane to the sacred. This
is the rare movie that, with neither
pretension nor condescension, speaks
to our higher impulses.
Monsieur Ibrahim invites us to
contemplate our place in the world,
and that's some kind of miracle for
a movie. P1

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3/12

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51

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