Rating: 3 out of 5
The best way to tackle prejudices and misconceptions isn’t through violence or political correctness, it’s through comedy. Humour allows for otherwise blunt observations to palatable and sometimes you just have no choice but to laugh at the absurdity of stereotypes.
Penned by famed English comedian Dave Baddiel and directed by Josh Appignanesi, The Infidel is a British comedy that addresses the touchy subject matter of religion with such warmth and empathy that offence can hardly be taken at its lampoon of thorny Muslim-Jewish relations.
Omid Djalili stars as Mahmud, a moderate Muslim from East London who one day discovers that he’s actually adopted and born to Jewish parents. Mahmud learns that his real name is Solly Shimshillewitz (Why didn't they just call you "Jewe-jew-jew-jew-jew" and be done with it?) and this revelation throws his sense of identity and faith off-kilter.
Meanwhile, Mahmud’s son is in love with the stepdaughter of a radical cleric and seeks to impress his soon-to-be fundamentalist father-in-law, something that can’t be done without the cooperation of his confused father. Just as Mahmud seeks to understand his Jewish heritage, he’s forced to also put on the facade of a stricter Muslim for the sake of his son.
There’s plenty of material to poke fun at and both Muslim and Jewish customs are parodied equally. The humour is quintessentially British, which is a synonym for wry and sardonic I guess, but with a premise such as this, there is an element of pratfall to it as well.
Much of the sting inherent within religious satire is softened greatly by just how immensely likeable Omid Djalili is. Mahmud comes across much like Homer Simpson (the sweet one from the early seasons, not the caricaturist buffoon he’s become since), he does things that should be inflammatory or gasp-inducing, but for some reason his good-natured-ness lends him a free pass.
His friendship with Jewish-American neighbour Lenny (Richard Schiff) is the real gem of this film though. Mahmud’s dependence on Lenny as his guide to Jewish culture is a goldmine for hilarity. Omid and Schiff have this fabulous rapport that is just boundlessly delightful. Schiff even pulls off his witty dialogue with the same deadpan éclat he does in The West Wing and it’s wonderful to behold.
The Infidel isn’t merely a heavy handed lesson on tolerance and understanding. Yes it’s partly about that but more importantly, Mahmud learns to stop framing his identity in religious or cultural terms and realises that his most important identity is being a good husband and father. That’s the kind of narrative that transcends.
The film is great for some clever if nonabrasive laughs but it does feel like it could have been so much more. The loony, and I mean insanely loony twist ending, is hilarious but ultimately a missed opportunity to turn that climatic triumph into something more than a well set-up punch line.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini, is 23-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for MetroWize Asia.
Hidzir was the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.