MONSIEUR IBRAHIM, directed by Francois Dupeyron, written by Dupeyron and Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, 95 minutes, rated R. In French with English subtitles.
The coming-of-age movie “Monsieur Ibrahim” is set in Paris during the early 1960s.
This isn’t the romanticized Paris of the 1964 Audrey Hepburn movie “Paris When it Sizzles,” the 1951 movie “An American in Paris,” nor is it the tourist-friendly Paris depicted in postcards, where the River Seine stretches lazily around the Left Bank to Notre Dame and beyond.
This is, shall we say, the Paris Hilton version of Paris.
The film takes place in a bustling red light district called Rue Bleue. There, bewigged prostitutes in high heels and polka-dot dresses roam the neighborhood streets in full pluck, sporting the sort of savoir faire hustle that would stop traffic in America but in France only has the power to engage a teenage boy’s eye.
The boy in question is 16-year-old Momo (Pierre Boulanger), a Jewish teen abandoned by his mother who is now being raised by his distant father (Gilbert Melki). When Momo takes his life savings in coins to the local grocer, Monsieur Ibrahim (Omar Sharif), with whom he comes to form a close friendship, he exchanges them for francs, convinces one of the girls to have sex with him and his new life as a young man begins.
Well, at least sexually.
The film, which Francois Dupeyron based on a screenplay by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, is funny and sweet, intentionally recalling the works of directors Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer in that it feels almost unscripted. Its story branches off into unexpected directions as Dupeyron embraces an air of spontaneity.
At the film’s center is the relationship between Ibrahim and Momo, with Ibrahim imparting the wisdom he has learned from age and from his Quran. Ibrahim is at the end of his life, but Momo, who darts through the busy Parisian streets like a young Gene Kelly, is so filled with the promise of new experiences in spite of his troubled home life that he gives the old man a lift and a purpose.
The bond that forms between them is natural and unhurried. Both actors are terrific together, with Boulanger, a remarkable talent, easily holding his own opposite the accomplished Sharif.
Fittingly, the movie is set during the very period Sharif realized his greatest screen triumphs, all shot in the 1960s: “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Doctor Zhivago” and “Funny Girl.” Not surprisingly, he’s at home in the era, though what he brings to “Monsieur Ibrahim” isn’t the renegade intensity that once ignited his youth. Instead, it’s a resigned sense of completion, which the film recognizes especially toward the end when “Monsieur Ibrahim” turns into a road movie, with each character meeting themselves along the way.
On video and DVD
MIRACLE, directed by Gavin O’Connor, written by Eric Guggenheim, 135 minutes, rated PG.
“Miracle” is based on the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s spectacular 4-3 win over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. If ever there was a historic sporting event suited for the big screen, this is it. It featured the United States as the underdogs, the Russians as the team to beat and a fight on the ice that was charged with such passion and meaning, memories of it continue to ripple 24 years later.
Director Gavin O’Connor and his screenwriter Eric Guggenheim know this, and they begin their movie with the reasons this particular game came to mean so much to so many: It galvanized the country during difficult times.
In the film, Kurt Russell is Herb Brooks, the sharp, ill-tempered coach from the University of Minnesota whose job it was to take 20 young men from various backgrounds and turn them into a team that could defeat the best of the best.
How he did it was no miracle. It was hard work and cunning, with Brooks studying the Soviets’ strategy, learning from it and then doggedly training his team to beat them at their own game.
In a story that could have given in to schmaltz, Russell goes a long way in keeping it at bay. This is the best performance he has given in years, with Russell downplaying the machismo a lesser actor might have brought to the role while nevertheless offering just enough ego and grit to keep the movie on edge.
Fans of UMaine’s hockey team will recognize Michael Mantenuto, who played during the 2000-01 season and who has a major role as Jack O’Callahan. He does a fine job of it, too, holding the screen along with his teammates, most of whom are first-time actors but all of whom manage to get under your skin and deliver a movie that, not unlike the game, captures the essence of the time and leaves an impression that’s far more lasting than you would expect.
Christopher Smith is the Bangor Daily News film critic. His reviews appear Mondays and Fridays in Style, 5:30 p.m. Thursdays on WLBZ 2 Bangor and WCSH 6 Portland and are archived at RottenTomatoes.com. He can be reached at BDNFilm1@aol.com.
THE VIDEO-DVD CORNER
Renting a video or a DVD? NEWS film critic Christopher Smith can help. Below are his grades of recent releases in video stores. Those capped and in bold print are new to video stores this week.
Beyond Borders ? D
Big Fish ? B
Brother Bear ? B
Calendar Girls ? B+
Cheaper by the Dozen ? B-
Dirty Pretty Things ? A-
Fog of War ? A
Girl With A Pearl Earring ? C+
Gothika ? D
Ghosts Of The Abyss ? C+
The Haunted Mansion ? C
House of Sand and Fog ? B+
In America ? A-
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 ? A
The Last Samurai ? C
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers ? A-
Lost in Translation ? A
Love Actually ? B+
The Magdalene Sisters ? A-
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World ? A
Matchstick Men ? A-
The Matrix Reloaded ? A-
Miracle ? B+
Open Range ? B+
Osama ? A-
Paycheck ? D
Peter Pan ? B+
The Rundown ? B
Scary Movie 3 ? B
School of Rock ? B+
Something’s Gotta Give ? A-
Stuck On You ? D+
Swimming Pool ? B+
Sylvia ? B-
Thirteen ? B+
The Triplets of Belleville ? A
Torque ? D
21 Grams ? A
Under the Tuscan Sun ? B+
Veronica Guerin ? B
Win a Date with Tad Hamilton ? C+