Judge William Lee's identity crisis is usually resolved with two pieces of picture ID.
A comedy of ethnic proportions.
"You find out you're Jewish and suddenly some bloke in a uniform is
leading you away?"
Facts of the Case
Mahmud Nasir (Omid Djalili, Modigliani) may be a "relaxed" Muslim, but he's a decent man. Sure, he might miss a prayer or enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time, but in his heart he's still a true Muslim. Mahmud's son wants to marry the stepdaughter of a radical cleric (Yigal Naor, House of Saddam) and that means Mahmud will have to prove his Muslim devotion before the union is approved. Unfortunately, the impending meeting with the cleric comes just as Mahmud is having an identity crisis. While clearing out his deceased mother's belongings, Mahmud discovers that he was adopted…and he's Jewish. Now, in order to meet his birth father, Mahmud must prove his Jewish identity to a strict rabbi (Matt Lucas, Little Britain).
The UK comedy The Infidel wants to know which religion is funnier. Positioning its protagonist as a Jew by birth and a Pakistani Muslim by upbringing, the movie crosses comedic territorial boundaries. Cultural differences and religious expectations are the targets for many of the jokes but the movie stays clear of being preachy or offensive thanks to performances that keep the characters realistic and likeable.
While a message of religious tolerance can be gleaned from the story, it is a relief that The Infidel has no overt lofty aspirations. This is the tale of one man's identity crisis between two communities. Mahmud once identified as a moderate Muslim, but now he's mainly just a hardworking family man living in London. If his vocabulary borrows from culturally insensitive territory, it's not because he's a bigot but rather because that's the language of the street. Comedian Omid Djalili plays the role of Mahmud with a natural ease that makes him easy to sympathize with as the middle class everyman.
For a crash course in being Jewish, Mahmud gets assistance from Lenny (Richard Schiff, Last Chance Harvey), a taxi driver who starts out as an adversary but is soon teaching Yiddish phrases and customs to his new friend. Their friendship is one of the winning charms of the movie because what begins as a rivalry between two types of people (the Jew and the Muslim) becomes a real interaction between two regular guys. Schiff infuses his scenes with delicious irony. Introducing Mahmud to a piece of classical music, he asks, "Doesn't it just make you want to put all your possessions in a wooden cart and pull them sadly and slowly away from your burning village?"
The low-budget comedy originated on 16mm film and the transfer to DVD is decent. The picture exhibits just a minor amount of dust and film grain. For the most part, colors appear natural but outdoor scenes have a slight blue bias. There are two audio presentations for the movie but the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is the preferred option. Dialogue is directed to the center channel and the surrounds support with background effects and music cues. It is a decent sound mix and dialogue is mostly clear although the slang expressions spoken with accents may come too quickly for some viewers. By comparison, the 2.0 stereo mix sounds too confined even though the movie doesn't demand a complex soundscape. Dialogue scenes are hampered by a subtle reverb while the environmental sounds are slightly boosted on the stereo presentation. Close captioned English subtitles are available.
Director Josh Appignanesi, writer David Baddiel and stars Djalili and Schiff participate in an audio commentary. The best extra is a ten-minute conversation between Baddiel and Schiff discussing comedy. For behind-the-scenes revelations, 21 minutes of Baddiel's video diary, originally posted on the Internet, are included on the disc. Other interview extras include five minutes of promotional sound bites under the banner of Tribeca Films and seven minutes of religious jokes offered by various cast and crewmembers. The trailer for the film has some fun spoofing the trailer of a cleverly marketed recent horror movie: night vision cameras capture the audience's reaction as they jump out of their seats at the shock of the movie's jokes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If the movie steps wrong anywhere, it's during the climax when Mahmud has to make things right with his family and come to terms with his own identity. The big revelation is just too much of a coincidence and too tidy to be believable. It doesn't significantly compromise the movie on the whole but it's a shame that the story's conclusion comes out of a plot contrivance rather than the down-to-earth actions of its characters.
Poking fun at a religion from the outside runs the risk of offending. If you're on the inside, however, it's permissible to take the piss out of your own beliefs. That's the attitude of the movie and it gets away with it largely because of the likeable and believable characters. Here's an enjoyable religious comedy without the political baggage.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
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