Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 11, 2021 11:36 pm 
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Bressonian banlieue boy

Watching Ibrahim is almost like seeing a film by Bresson, or an early postwar Italian neoreaist film. Dialogue is staccato or nonexistent. In particular though 17-year-old Ibrahim (Abdel Bendaher) and his father Ahmed (Guesmi himself, an actor with 136 credits, for whom this is the feature directorial deut) are all they've got, they don't say much to each other. Some scenes have an element of mime. Much revolves around a central, badly understood and overwhelming financial issue. Ahmed is missing most of his front teeth. Dreaming of becoming a waiter at the Royal Opera restaurant where he works selling seafood out front, Ahmed has had removable dentures made but he has to pay a lot of money to pick them up now.

Ibrahim seems childlike, and there's something Chaplinesque in his conception. He's easily manipulated by his dumb but more confident and older friend Achille (Rabah Naït Oufella, Nocturama, who lures him into stealing things and visiting a rich gay man, but he always runs. One failed exploit forces Ibrahim's father Ahmed (director Guesmi) to pay much more than the money he owes on the dentures to save his son from the police. Through Achille the film paints what a life of petty crime might be, also how an impoverished teenage boy (and perhaps Achille is gay) might become a male prostitute.

Then a couple of girls from the trade school he and Achille attends take Ibrahim to a restaurant, and he winds up with one of them. (This is a feel-good episode that adds little to the realism of the film.) Ibrahim's world is sketchy and illusory, but can also go from emptiness to something huge in a moment. Largely inarticulate, he may dream of being a professional soccer player, but in the club he's only a substitute. Discovery of this, and the costly theft, and other clumsy misbehavior, anger Ahmed, but he's never punishing or violent toward his son. A final scene about Ibrahim's mother helps explain his gentleness: he has much to ask forgiveness for.

What is pleasantly retro is also the way the story unfolds in simple sequence. No elaborate cross-cutting, no flashbacks.

Bendaher has a striking, pure face, often framed in a protective balaclava: he is at once impoverished and beautiful. Mostly in motion, he seems tall and slightly bent forward. Clear especially when he and Achille undress in the club locker room, his whole body is gestural. The film has been praised for its simple, direct storytelling. Not everything quite computes. We don't question the action too much because it's so breathless, vivid, and well directed.

Two of this year's best and most distinctive Rendez-Vous films focus on teenage banlieu boys, the other one being Gagarine/Gagarin(Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh's Cité portrait, Gagarin, where young Yuri, unlike the innocent, confused Ibrahim, is the star and mastermind of the dwindling housing complex community. But each is isolated and overwhelmed in his own special way.

Samir Guesmi is an actor with 137 credits making his feature directorial debut and screenplay (with Rosa Attab) here. He collaborated on the adaptation and script here as well. The dp was the well-known Céline Bozon, the art director Laurent Baude, composer of the scoreRaphaël Eligoulachvili. The editing was done by Pauline Dairou. Abdel Bendaher reports having generally ignored French movies, but lartely having looked at Jacques Audiard's Un prophète and "a movie called La tete haute" (by Emmanuelle Bercot) and being "very impressed by the performances." Indeed: models that might lead him forward in this unexpected job of acting.

Ibrahim, 79 mins., debuted at Angoulême Aug. 2020, named there best film, best director, best screenplay and best music; it was also shown at Busan and received Rome's Alice nella Città Golden Camera Award.. Theatrical release scheduled in the Netherlands May 20, 2021. The French distributer is Wild Bunch. Screened online at home for this review as part of the all-virtual FLC-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema on Mar. 11, 2021.

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