Only in indie cinema will you find a comedy about a burly, hairy English Muslim who explores his faith and personal identity after discovering that he’s actually a Jew. I can’t guarantee you’ll get more laughs from The Infidel than you would is you were to plop down twenty bucks to see Killers, because I haven’t seen that film; but I have faith that you’ll enjoy The Infidel much more.
Omid Djalili stars as Mahmud Nasir, a loving husband, doting father and something of a “relaxed” practicing Musilim living in London. His son, Rashid (Amit Shah) is engaged to marry Uzma (Soraya Radford), whose stepfather is a fundamentalist/radical Muslim Arshad Al-Masri (Igal Naor). Apprehension fills the Nashir household as the whole family must receive the approval of Al-Mari in order for Rashid to be allowed to marry Uzma. Mahmud thinks it’ll be a piece of cake.
Nothing is ever a piece of cake.
While cleaning out the home of his recently deceased mother, Mahmud makes a shocking discovery. He was adopted. Even more shocking, and distressing considering the impending visit by Al-Masri, is that Mahmud learns he was born Jewish.
This news sends Mahmud on a personal journey that is hilarious, coupled with moments of real poignancy. When he discovers that his birth father is on death’s door at a Jewish nursing home, a snarky rabbi (played by Matt Lucas of Little Britain) informs him that he won’t be allowed to meet his father until he “becomes more Jewish.” As he has no Jewish friends, Mahmud turns to his recent Jewish acquaintance, a bitter, divorced American cabbie that lived across the street from his mother: Lenny (Richard Schiff, The West Wing). Lenny, who seems to be perpetually drunk or high, reluctantly takes Mahmud under his wing to teach him how to appear Jewish. This leads to some of the funniest moments in the movie, including a bah mitzvah where Mahmud winds up giving a toast.
The Infidel does an excellent job combining social commentary with uproarious laughs. Djalili is flat out hilarious, yet he constantly surprises you with his tender moments, especially when suffering for the way he ultimately hurts his family by trying to conceal that he’s a Jew. Schiff is a pure delight. Typically cast in white collar, suit wearing, uptight government workers, in The Infidel, he cuts loose as Lenny. The two stars have impeccable comic timing together and whenever they share the screen it is a joy.
David Baddiel’s screenplay is full of laughs, with clever insights into Jewish and Muslim cultures. Although the third act kind of stumbles, it is still satisfying and uplifting. Likewise, director Josh Appignanesi keeps the pace moving along briskly, but creates wonderful tapestries for his actors and the scenes to play out. The Infidel is the type of movie that never gets made by big studios, which is a shame because laughter is universal, even if religions are not. Thank God, or Allah, there are independent producers willing to take risks and give us films like this one.
The Infidel was a selection for this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The filmmakers struck a deal with the festival to make this film immediately available through streaming on You Tube until June 16th. The rental price is a bargain: $5.99! You can access it here.
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