With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead, I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and, believe me, there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and, with the benefit of hindsight in many cases, may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.
The Infidel (2010)
Religion has been prevalent throughout history with the world population divided into many faiths which has often led to many disputes and, sadly, even war. Personally, I believe in an ideal world where we should all be allowed to embrace our faiths without coming under question but that’s just my viewpoint. In Josh Appignanesi’s The Infidel, written by comic David Baddiel, the focus is on both Jews and Muslims but with an interesting dilemma thrown in.
The focal point of the film is Mahmud Nasir (a delightful Omid Djalili), a Muslim who has a strong belief in his faith but doesn’t come across as the most devout, enjoying an occasional drink of alcohol and being a fan of the late pop star Gary Page (James Floyd). When Mahmud’s son, Rashid (Amit Shah), wishes to marry Uzma (Soraya Radford), the Nasir family face the prospect of a meeting with her cleric father, Arshad Al-Masri (Yigal Naor) whose blessing they will need for the union to go ahead. Mahmud is compelled to portray himself as a devout Muslim but his life is thrown into turmoil when going through the belongings of his recently deceased mother. Mahmud discovers his birth certificate that not only reveals he was adopted but he was born a Jew and his real name is Solly Shimshillewitz! Having previously been intolerant of Jews, particularly his neighbour Lenny (Richard Schiff, previously notable as Toby in The West Wing), Mahmud suddenly feels obliged to embrace the Jewish faith. He reluctantly turns to Lenny for help after discovering his birth father in an old people’s home but being denied entrance to his room by a Rabbi (a great cameo by Matt Lucas). Mingling amongst the Jewish community while keeping his origins a secret from his family and friends, Mahmud has to decide where his future faith lies.
When Mrs B proposed watching The Infidel I was interested but also had my reservations. Learning of the plot I felt this was a film that could easily offend many people, particularly in the Muslim and Jewish communities, and though I can’t speak with any conviction on their behalf I do think this film should be taken lightheartedly although it does address an important issue at the end. It mostly plays more as a comedy than drama with some frankly hilarious moments. The pairing of Djalili and Schiff is the film’s highpoint as Mahmud partakes of some Jewish customs including a Bar Mitzvah where he has to take to the stage to tell a Jewish joke but somehow gets through it and is warmly embraced. After initial difficulties accepting the truth of his origins, Mahmud slowly adapts to the Jewish ways of life but the more involved he becomes the greater the void between his family and the rest of the Muslim community, leaving him somewhat isolated between the two communities. What begins as a somewhat amusing revelation for Mahmud gradually addresses some serious ideas as the film looks at our individual identities especially our rights to choose our faith rather than be told what we must believe.
Mahmud’s problems slowly build as his long absences from home, time spent with Lenny, are believed by his wife Saamiya (Archie Panjabi) to be indicative of infidelity. Mahmud is also bound by duty to his son, Rashid, who he is determined to help secure a marriage to Uzma. Mahmud’s challenge is winning the approval of her father, Arshad, and he goes a long way to achieving this after being amongst a crowd of Muslims and being inadvertently spotted wearing a kippah which, in desperation, Mahmud throws to the ground and sets on fire only to be caught on film. Though he appeases the Muslim community and impresses Arshad, Mahmud only succeeds in offending the Jews who have no hesitation in turning their backs on him. It’s at this point in the film that Mahmud realises he can’t veer between the two faiths and that he must decide once and for all where his beliefs rest. The final scene where Mahmud decides his future introduces a thought provoking argument. Though not religious myself it did still make me look at my own beliefs and ask myself do I believe the way I do because I want to or because it’s what’s expected of me. I’m happy to say my beliefs are purely of my own choosing, even differing from members of my family, but no matter how strongly I feel about my own viewpoint I am not the sort to question others, for I don’t think that is the way life should be.
Inevitably The Infidel will likely offend some people but I don’t think the Jewish or Muslim communities were portrayed in a negative fashion in the film at any stage. The individuals are the focus here and how they apply their faiths, not the religions themselves. Though funny in places The Infidel cannot help but take on a more serious tone particularly in its depiction of Mahmud who does become very isolated as he considers turning his back on a community he has been a part of all his life to start afresh with a new faith. The film certainly confirmed my previous thoughts that all of us should be allowed to follow our hearts and choose our faiths and be allowed to enjoy them without fear of question or persecution. A hopeless ideal perhaps but always a pleasant one to comprehend.
The Infidel is a good comedy tackling a delicate subject in divisive religious faiths and one man caught between the two trying to find himself. Although the film may offend some people I would expect the majority to find much to enjoy here with Djalili great in the lead with Schiff completing a memorable double act while the supporting cast are also good as well. Well worth a look.
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