"Monsieur Ibrahim" is a fine coming-of-age tale set in 1960's Paris. Young Pierre Boulanger gives a remarkably assured performance as Moses, a Jewish teen living with his cold, skinflint of a dad in a less-than-savory part of town. Abandoned by his mother and living in the shadow of a brother who has himself fled the scene, Moses leads an embittered existence, seeking surcease in the beds of the local prostitutes who ply their trade on the street where he lives. Moses is finally befriended by an aged shopkeeper named Ibrahim Demirdji, a Safi Muslim who, after Moses' father commits suicide, adopts the boy and instills in him valuable life lessons, gleaned from his religious training and his long years of experience.
In terms of its storyline, "Monsieur Ibrahim" offers little that is new here (the idea of an older mentor figure raising an orphan child of a different religion goes at least as far back as "The Two of Us" in 1968 and probably much further) . Where it excels is in its tenderhearted view of daily life and in its subtle plea for understanding between Arab and Jew. Moses is an almost heartbreakingly ordinary kid, a fact which makes his story all the more compelling (he has much of the rough-and-tumble poignancy of the boy in "The 400 Blows"). We can identify with every emotion he is going through on his painful journey to adulthood: his fears, his insecurities, his need for acceptance, his appreciation of simple kindnesses. Moses lives in a world where life can sometimes be cruel, but where fellow human beings reach out to help one another in their moments of greatest need.
This is a beautiful, heartfelt film that doesn't stand on its head to try and impress us. It seeps into our hearts one scene at a time, until, by the end, we realize what a profound emotional impact it has had on us. Veteran actor Omar Sharif is wonderful as the solid and wise Monsieur Ibrahim, but it is Boulanger who is the real revelation here. This amazing young actor is the true heart and soul of the film, an absolute natural. He is very rarely off screen, and he rivets our attention on his character in a way that most highly paid movie actors can merely dream about doing. I hope he makes many more films in the future.