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  Infidel, The Race For The Middle Ground
Year: 2010
Director: Josh Appignanesi
Stars: Omid Djalili, Richard Schiff, Archie Panjabi, Yigal Naor, Amit Shah, Mina Anwar, Matt Lucas, Soraya Radford, David Schneider, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Joanna Brookes, Paul Kaye, Miranda Hart, Stewart Scudamore, Bhasker Patel, Leah Fatania, Sartaj Garewal
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mahmud Nasir (Omid Djalili) is watching television in his London home, and the controversial Pakistani cleric Arshad El Masri (Yigal Naor) is the subject of a news report, but he's not interested and switches channels to see his former favourite pop star from his New Romantic days, singing along with the vintage video. Mahmud is a taxi driver and father of two who never took his religion too seriously, although he's still a proud Muslim; his mother has died recently and he is going to head over to her house today to clear out her things. However, along the way he has an altercation with someone he has more in common with than he knows...

It could be that The Infidel was somewhat lost in the kerfuffle surrounding another British film of 2010 which examined religious minorities in that country, which was the Chris Morris effort Four Lions. That had a far more controversial premise, as writer David Baddiel's script could have easily have made a decent six part sitcom on BBC2, and the reaction it received was tolerant, although not everyone liked the plot. That saw Mahmud find something out when he is going through his mother's papers, and that is that he was adopted. Naturally, he is keen to find out who his real parents were, but soon wishes he hadn't bothered.

This is because when he goes to investigate further, he discovers that he is not a natural born Muslim but actually Jewish. Instead of being intrigued, he is shocked and cannot bring himself to tell his family and friends about it as a sense of shame falls over him. What makes this a trickier situation is that his son Rashid (Amit Shah) is engaged to the stepdaughter of none other than El Masri, and I don't know if you're aware of this, but Jews and Muslims have a history of not getting on in certain parts of the world. So Mahmud, instead of never mentioning this to anyone which might have given him a quieter life, decides to allow it to simmer away inside his brain until he finally opens up to someone.

That someone being the taxi driver who he was having a minor feud with thanks to an argument on the road that developed into a tit for tat. He is Lenny Goldberg (Richard Schiff), an American Jew in London who is embittered thanks to a recent divorce, but is filled with a newfound purpose when he makes it his mission to introduce Mahmud to the culture he has been missing out on for all these years. This means taking him to meet other British Jews at a bar mitzvah, and the foolish efforts of the ex-Muslim to try to fit in provide some of the funniest scenes (his improvised joke on stage is hilarious). Except, of course, he's not an ex-Muslim, and he is straddling the two religions in a clumsy way that sees his life begin to break down.

According to The Infidel, honesty is the best policy, but not necessarily the easiest path to take. In truth, rather than a lightness of comic touches the film goes about its subject with a certain ponderousness, as if the serious aspects that inevitably come up - extremism on both sides, essentially - have rendered the jokes leadfooted. That said, Djalili does seize his chances, humorous and dramatic, in a rare lead role; anyone who has seen his stand-up will know he's a very funny, and more crucially to this, very likeable comedian, so working with Baddiel's script they do play to his strengths as a performer. He's backed up with some neat turns by the filmmakers' comedy mates, some of whom appear in extended cameos, with Mina Anwar doing her role in a veil throughout, just her voice recognisable. This is pretty much a "Why can't we all get along?" comedy, and is enjoyable more often than not, a welcome chance for moderate voices to be heard above the headline-grabbing extremists for a change. Music by Erran Baron Cohen.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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