He’s haphazardly shaven, lumpy in an Arab robe over shopkeeper pants, hunkered down within the cramped confines of a little neighborhood grocery on a working-class street in a movie-burnished re-creation of early-1960s Paris – but it doesn’t matter: You can’t take your eyes off the aged beauty of 71-year-old Omar Sharif, who plays the title character in the delicate cross-cultural fable Monsieur Ibrahim with palpable delight. This Muslim mister is wise, and his faith-based serenity attracts a lonely local Jewish boy nicknamed Momo (Pierre Boulanger), who, long abandoned by his mother, finds in the old man the loving Semitic father he doesn’t have in his own depressed papa. (Friendly streetwalkers substitute as big sisters and sex educators; Isabelle Adjani makes a cameo appearance as a visiting Brigitte Bardot-scented movie star.)
Adapted by writer-director François Dupeyron from an autobiographical best-selling novella and stage play by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, the movie is sometimes profound in its simple, optimistic message of friendship – and sometimes it’s plain simple. ”I just know what’s in my Koran,” Ibrahim says. But Sharif, much wilier, also knows that what’s in his script is a blessing for a movie star in winter.