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The Infidel

2010-11-05 14:16
The Infidel
What it's about:

Mahmud Nasir has always been proudly Muslim, even if he is occasionally less than strictly observant of its many rituals and practices, until a death in the family throws his entire life into disarray he discovers that, not only was he adopted at birth, but that he was born the very Jewish Solly Shimshillewitz.

What we thought:

Hitting cinemas just one week after the risky Four Lions comes another British comedy with a volatile Islam-centric subject matter. The basic plot of having a Muslim man find out that he was born Jewish could so easily have been thoroughly offensive to members of either religion, or it could have lost any sense of comedic spark by blandly and lightly pussyfooting around its delicate subject matter. The Infidel may not be a perfect film but, to its great credit, it is gloriously politically incorrect but never to the point that it would be offensive to anyone but the most die-hard extremists of either faith. And, frankly, who gives a rat's ass what they think: not just for the obvious reasons but because religious fundamentalists are notoriously lacking in the sense of humour department – how else do you think they landed up the way they are?

The script by – I suppose it should be mentioned – Jewish author and comedian David Baddiel, may finish on a message of tolerance and peace and may make use of some frankly silly plot contrivances but it is witty, acerbic and laugh-out-loud funny throughout. Just as importantly, unlike the horribly duplicitous Adam Sandler "comedy" I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry (2007), which spends the entire film making fun of gay people before suddenly and spuriously telling the audience how wrong it is to do the same, The Infidel never comes off as hypocritical.

It also doesn't entirely shy away from stereotypical portrayals of members of either faith – though, being Jewish myself, I did notice more on that side of the religious divide but then Judaism is explored slightly more in the film as well – but the characters don't feel like caricatures either. Most daringly, it doesn't shy away from the hotly divisive Palestinian/Israeli conflict either but it doesn't paint either side as being entirely wrong or entirely right.

Of course, the script wouldn't work anywhere as well as it does if it didn't have the steady, unobtrusive hand of director Josh Appignanesi expertly guiding the pace and comedic timing. It also wouldn't work anywhere near as well if it wasn't in the very safe, comedic hands of Omid Djalili in the lead role and Richard Schiff playing a grumpier, more profane, even more Jewish version of his West Wing character Toby Ziegler, as the scene-stealing Jewish cab driver who tries to teach Solly Shimshillewitz the fundamentals of Jewish culture.

I could spend all day listening to Djalili and Schiff trading culturally and religiously tinged barbs between one another and that is where the comedic heart of the film lies. Djalili is a great physical performer and the scene where he finds himself accidentally wearing a yarmulke at an anti-Zionist rally is especially hilarious.

That it has an ending that falls somewhat flat on its face as it tries just a bit too hard for a neat resolution is at least somewhat forgivable considering just how well the rest of the film balances its sardonic humour, messages of religious and cultural tolerance and general likeability. You're unlikely to find many more smart, funny and affable comedies than The Infidel this year.

Another unlikely, boundary-pushing comedy from Britain, featuring a great cast of comic actors.

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