Monday 9 August 2010


Out on DVD and Blu-ray today is the David Baddiel's The Infidel.
Hit the jump for the trailer and more details...

After the death of his mother, Mahmud Nasir (Omid Djalili) discovers he was adopted at birth. More shocking for him is the discovery that he wasn't born a Muslim, but in fact was born Jewish. Hoping to find out more about his heritage and the potential life he could have led as Solly Shimshillewitz, Mahmud seeks the help of Lenny Goldberg (Richard Schiff), a local American Jew who has had a few run ins with him in the past. Mahmud must keep his origins a secret whilst his family organises his sons upcoming wedding, but for how long can he keep lying about his heritage?

Any racial or religious comedies are always treading on dangerous ground from the start. You run the risk of offending not one, but two sections of society in one fell swoop. But then you don't want to sugar coat it and need to fully address any arguments you have, otherwise what's the point?

Omid Djalili is the perfect person for this role. His stand-up has always played upon his appearance of indeterminate origin (he's actually of Iranian heritage), so he can convincingly play a man of, shall we say, confusing ethnicity. Is he Mahmud or is he Solly? Well, maybe he's both.

Googling the word 'Jew' only gets him so far, so he turns to the only Jew he knows, his neighbour Lenny played by The West Wing's Richard Schiff. He's an educated man working as a cab driver, so should be able to teach Mahmud the basics of Judaism, starting with 'Oy' before slowly moving onto 'Vey'.

This film had the unfortunate timing of being released in cinemas at the same time as Chris Morris's Four Lions. That film turned into somewhat of an unstoppable juggernaut, or at least I can testify that it did in South Yorkshire (where it's set). It's unfortunate timing because the two films got lumped together, when both have very different subject matters. Yes, both raise some questions about religious identity, but this film takes a broader viewpoint on the subject, not just confining it to Muslims but also including Judaism equally.

Of the two films The Infidel is the better experience, but then I was one of the few people in the land who thought Four Lions was dreadful slapstick nonsense. Underneath the religious aspects there is a family comedy here, and I wish that had been explored more. Mahmud is shown to have never been overly religious, but was willing to learn more to appease his son and his potential in-laws. These scenes, along with his interactions with wife and young daughter should have played a bigger part in his own self discovery.

Of course the whole point of the story is to highlight these two faiths' similarities rather than accentuate their differences. As Mahmud learns more about his Jewish heritage he also learns more about the faith he was raised in, landing somewhere in the middle. If there was a short, slightly chubby line separating Israelis and Palestinians, it would be him. One of the highlights of the film is the friendship Mahmud develops with Lenny, with both parties finding some common ground. It's easy to see what they were getting at.

Far from perfect, it sometimes takes its concept too far and sometimes shows its characters in an unflattering light. Sure, Matt Lucas's Rabbi may be a bit of a simpleton, but he's a long way from Yigal Naor's religious fundamentalist. Not a very even handed assessment of the two cultures. Also, showing Omid Djalili dressed as an orthodox Jew and wearing a concentration camp uniform is a bit of a cheap gag.

But it is a story with a moral at the end, and it's a simple enough one to grasp...

Can't we all just get along?


Trailer appears courtesy of Trailer Addict. Head over there for more clips.

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