Sharif returns to movies at Venice festival

— Debonair actor Omar Sharif vanished from the big screen in recent years. But the Egyptian-born star has returned, at a time of international tensions, to offer a tale of love between a Muslim and a Jew.

The love depicted in Francois Dupeyron's "Monsieur Ibrahim" -- which Sharif, 71, presented Friday at the Venice Film Festival -- is not the kind of dashing romantic role that made him famous. This is love between a lonely old Muslim shopkeeper and a neglected Jewish teenager, who escape loneliness together through a tender friendship in 1960s Paris.

Sharif, who made his name in films such as "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago," also received a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement after a 50-year movie career.

He described his new film as "a comeback."

"It's because I really love the script, I love the things that were said in this film," he said. "I hadn't made a film for five or six years before this. I wasn't finding suitable parts. I always had this problem because I have an accent that is not Italian, not French, not English, not Spanish or Mexican.

"When I was a young actor and I sold tickets at the box office, they used to change parts to suit me. But when you're an old man and the director needs an old Italian, he gets one," he said. "In this film, I'm playing the part of an old Arab, which is what I am."

Sharif's Ibrahim, with a wizened face and a big gap between ever-smiling teeth, is the heart of the film. His presence greatly improves the movie, which leans toward heartwarming sentimentalism and revives the theme of a boy's coming of age within a broken family -- a recurring French plotline at least since Francois Truffaut's 1959 film "The 400 Blows."

One major difference is the Muslim-Jewish relationship.

"Life is so simple," Sharif said. "I would like there to be dialogue for everyone. For the Palestinians, for Israel, for everyone."

The director Dupeyron added: "All the barriers that exist between men are only made by men. They are artificial, and like the Berlin Wall, you can knock them down."

photo

AP Photo

Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, left, and French actor Pierre Boulanger arrive at the screening of "Monsieur Ibrahim" at the Venice Film Festival. Sharif returned Friday to the festival, where he also was to receive a lifetime achievement award.

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