Film legend Omar Sharif, screen heartthrob of Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, was the toast of the Venice Film Festival on Friday when he was awarded a Golden Lion lifetime achievement award.
"This is my 50th year of being a professional actor. That already is worth an award, just to survive 50 years," the Egyptian-born actor told a press conference on the Lido.
Sharif, who stars in French director Francois Dupeyron's new film Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran ("Mr. Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran") premiering at the 60th edition of the festival, said the event marked a "comeback" for him.
"I wasn't looking to work, but it's a miraculous script," he said. "For the last 25 years I haven't made anything decent."
In Monsieur Ibrahim, Sharif plays a Muslim grocer who befriends Momo, a poor Jewish boy in a red light district of Paris whose companions are the prostitutes plying their trade along Rue Bleu.
When the impish Momo, 13, is abandoned by his father, Monsieur Ibrahim adopts him and together they travel to Ibrahim's native Turkey in a red convertible sportscar.
The tender, beautifully shot film gently tackles religious and racial differences in 1960s France. Critics say it could make it to the Oscars next year.
"It's a film of tolerance," said Sharif, who easily switched between Italian, French and English during the press conference. "The only thing I'd like is that people are a bit happier, a bit kinder when they come out."
Sharif, born Michael Shalhoub in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1932, made a name for himself on the Egyptian movie scene before heading to Hollywood and leaping to fame in David Lean's classics. He has appeared in more than 70 movies over his long career, including some more contemporary duds.
But most recently, the famous ladies' man and gambler, made headlines when he was convicted of hitting a policeman at a casino near Paris and received a one-month suspended sentence.
Media reports said Sharif was arguing with the croupier while he played roulette before the policeman intervened.
The silver-haired, dreamy-eyed Sharif will be presented with the Golden Lion at a gala screening of the movie on Friday evening.
"I can't express what an honour it will be to present the award this evening," said Moritz de Hadeln, the director of the film festival. "He is the symbol of a man who has always been in favour of religious dialogue."