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27.3.04

Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran

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Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran (2003)

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The French film Monsieur Ibrahim is being billed as the "return" of Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, although one glance at his filmography in the Internet Movie Database shows that he has certainly been working, just not in anything good. In an interview published on the film's Web site, Mr. Sharif is perfectly frank about the nature of his recent work. In response to the question, "Is it true that you did not want to make any more movies?", he replied:
Totally true. After my small role in the The Thirteenth Warrior with Antonio Banderas, I said to myself, "Let us stop this nonsense, these meal-tickets that we do because it pays well. Unless I find a stupendous film that I love. And that makes me want to leave home to do, I will stop." Bad pictures are very humiliating, I was really sick. It is terrifying to have to do the dialogue from bad scripts, to face a director who does not know what he is doing, in a film so bad that it is not even worth exploring.
Ouch. That movie was adapted from a Michael Crichton novel (Eaters of the Dead), which is bad enough. William Wisher and Warren Lewis, who are credited with writing the screenplay, should be ashamed. That clueless director whom Sharif courteously did not name would be, I think, John McTiernan, who has had his ups (The Thomas Crown Affair [1999], The Hunt for Red October [1990]) and a whole lot of downs (Last Action Hero [1993], Medicine Man [1992], Predator [1987]). Worst of all, his name is synonymous with the Die Hard franchise, the first installment of which, in 1988, was as tolerably entertaining as the third (Die Hard: With a Vengeance [1995]) was excruciating to watch. It looked like Thirteenth Warrior had finally spelt the end of an infamous career (practically no work in film since then, if you check his IMDb filmography). It was so bad that, according to IMDb, Michael Crichton did some uncredited reshoots on this film before it was finally released. Hollywood, however, never learns and, like the proverbial dog, is happy to lap up its own vomit if it sits on the floor for a few years: McTiernan has been tapped to direct Die Hard 4: Die Hardest, with Bruce Willis (which is wasting celluloid as we speak, in preparation for a release in summer 2005).

==>> Continue reading this review.

Todd Babcock takes exception:

Alright, alright, ease up on The Thirteenth Warrior. Heart on sleeve here: I loved that movie. Seen it probably five or six times (twice in the theater, mind you). The dealing with the language crossover, where Banderas learns the Norse tongue through assimilation, where foreign words slowly intermingle with English, was a great conceit. I have not experienced that in film before and have noted it as an idea to steal for future projects (though I am sure McTiernan stole it from something else). The cast was stellar: sparse dialogue was replaced by behavior. You knew each character from one another simply by behavior and look. Film is pictures at the end of the day, and this film told its story through images and sound more than dialogue. The lead character of the King just stole the picture: his dignity and pride were evident in every frame by his natural presence on screen. The ballad they recited about their fathers and the oral tradition were powerful and Crichton's juxtaposition of an unlikely cross-cultural landscape was, I thought, interesting. The Arab/Muslim's use of writing and technology is not one we really discuss outside of academic history footnotes, certainly not in cinema. The ancestral worship vs. monotheism, for an action film. I don't know: I feel you're writing off a lot of what the film did, I guess.

But, more to the point, McTiernan had the film taken away from him by Crichton: he (Crichton) didn't shoot more material but rather cut about an hour of footage. It was meant as this epic tale with all the extra footage being character stuff. After the film was eviscerated, the character were left as shadows and simple ideas of what they shot. Basically, Hollywood (and Crichton) don't want three-hour art films with action. They want their two-hour, above-the-title star action film to seep into theaters and make quick bank. The gutted film felt, well, gutted, and after an initial weekend bump of curiosity it was blasted by critics and the audiences soon followed suit. What the full film looked like, apparently, we will never know. Crichton is too powerful to overthrow (the pissing contest between director and writer went to the bestseller). McTiernan asked to have his name removed and, of course, they did not oblige because his name has cash value as well.

I am also allergic to actors disavowing film choices in that 20/20 hindsight and claim "selling out." You made the film, you weren't hurting for money: it's not like Omar Sharif was trying to make a name for himself or was trying to pay off his car insurance. He has the luxury of choice. Take a note from the King of Candor, George Clooney: when queried about Batman and Robin, he simply stated that he had fun, it was a great opportunity, and that yes, the film didn't land, but he thought it was a great experience and let's face it, "who turns down Batman?" If a film tanks, the best tact is to say, "We tried our best. It was fun. Sorry you didn't like it."

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