The Infidel is a very enjoyable, farcical tale about the differences (or lack thereof) between the culture and religion of Jews and Muslims. Set in modern day Britain, it tells the story of Mahmud Nasir, a cab company owner, whose son, Rashid, is about to be married to a young woman whose widowed mother has recently married an ultra-conservative, charismatic Muslim leader. This film is a gem from last year's Tribeca Film Festival and is now available on DVD and video on demand.
Rashid worries that perhaps his father is not ‘devout’ enough and that they will not gain the most important blessing of his fiancé’s new step-father. Mahmud admits that he does not pray towards Mecca five times every day, nor does he fast every day during Ramadan, and he has enjoyed the occasional sip of beer, but in his heart, he knows that God knows he is trying to be a good Muslim. That line, shared candidly and with great honesty, becomes one of the most prophetic of the entire film.
Mahmud is ably played by Omid Djalili, best known for bit parts in Gladiator, The Mummy, and Sex and the City 2. Djalili has obviously been hiding his acting light under a supporting role basket as he is incredibly funny, vulnerable and sweet in this film; a younger, contemporary version of Topol (who was, of course, Israeli; Djalili is Iranian. More on that further down. )
Lest you think this film is all about theology, rest assured that a good portion of the film is a hilarious send up of both cultures, and, in reality, all cultures – as Mahmud, while cleaning his recently departed mother’s home, discovers his birth certificate –and his true identity. He was adopted as an infant, and his original birth parents, were Jewish! Thus begins a slipshod, slapstick quest to explore his birth roots, aided by a former nemesis (and rival) cab driver named Lenny, an American Jew stranded in the U.K. by a recent divorce.
Lenny, in the best Pygmalion tradition, plays Henry Higgins to Mahmud’s Eliza Doolittle, secretly teaching him Yiddish phrases, a spattering of actual religious devotion, introduces him to matzo ball soup and Russian Cossack dance moves. Mahmud borrows Lenny’s copy of Fiddler on the Roof, and plays it over and over again, dancing as he goes. (Note to: West Wing fans, Lenny is played by the incomparable Richard Schiff, yet another good reason to see this movie.)
Meanwhile, Mahmud’s wife, played by Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife), assumes that his erratic behavior has to do with a mid-life crisis, or perhaps an affair. He tries, and fails, numerous times to tell her his secret, but realizes, with growing horror, what will happen to his family, his son’s pending marriage and his relations with his own friends when the truth is eventually known.
As previously noted this movie is a farce, and a broad one at that, and so the revealing is, of course, inevitable, but how it comes about and where all the pieces end up coming into place, is truly funny, irreverent, truthful and inspiring. Ultimately the film gives us all a message of hope, reminding us that we often take our differences too seriously, and showing us, in numerous ways, that the authentic human condition, no matter our origins, is shared.
Three and a half out of five stars. Be aware that this movie contains many, many ethnic jokes, stereotypes, slurs, slang words and (British) profanity. That being said, the movie spreads those moments around so that you never feel that one group is being slandered against another; rather that life, in general, is funny. And politics aside, we all strive for the same things. God, I believe, would be pleased. Best for ages 12 and older, but safe for the whole family.
The Infidel was part of last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and is available for local viewing in Connecticut via Video on Demand. So if you have a Netflix or Amazon subscription and a blu ray player or compatible game system, you can see this film right now. And I highly suggest that you do.
Go here for more information about the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, which begins in New York on April 20. Note that tickets for the film festival offerings are available now for American Express card holders, and on April 18 for all others.
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