The Infidel

Richard Schiff and Omid Djalili

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

21 March

 

New Year’s Day, Bahá’í calendar

If you’re a member of the Bahá’í faith, today is the first day of the new year. A religion that believes in one god, one spiritual source for all religions – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, whatever – and the equality of mankind, Bahá’í was only founded in the 19th century but has around five- to seven-million followers worldwide, spreading outwards from its foundational source in Iran. The largest grouping of Bahá’ís is in India. Right now it is probably the fastest growing religion in the world. It uses a solar calendar of 19 months of 19 days each, with four or five days extra between month 18 and 19 (the difference doing what leap-year days do in the Gregorian calendar used in most of the world) mopping up the leftover. New Year’s Day always occurs on the vernal equinox, when the sun is directly over the equator, and coincides with the Iranian new year. It is celebrated with music, dancing and feasting, though Bahá’ís vary exactly how they mark it depending on where they live, the faith being not particularly prescriptive.

 

 

 

The Infidel (2010, dir: Josh Appignanesi)

Britain’s most famous Bahá’í, and regular Hollywood villain, Omid Djalili plays Mahmud, the entirely secular Muslim having to pretend he’s really devout in order to impress his son’s prospective father-in-law. A fact that is made about a zillion times harder when he suddenly discovers that he was in fact adopted and that his birth parents were, in fact, Jewish. Cue a film about identity in the modern world that draws a lot of the same conclusions as did Chris Morris’s film Four Lions – place means more than race or religion – but does it a lot less confrontationally. The plot then follows Mahmud – real name Solomon “Solly” Shimshillewitz – on a voyage of ethnic discovery. Starting with a bit of soul searching, his casual anti-Semitism being a particular sticking point in his transition from Mahmud to Solly. We’re introduced to his neighbour, Lenny Goldberg (Richard Schiff, so good he threatens to destabilise the film) who agrees to school the Muslim in Jewish ways, so that when Mahmud visits the very old man he now believes is his biological father the shock of a Muslim son won’t kill him. Director Josh Appignanesi and writer David Baddiel then pretend that what follows isn’t a series of comedy sketches with only the limpest links – an American film would have brought in a writer to smooth out the transitions, create an emotional arc and all that. But it doesn’t matter much because Baddiel’s jokes are actually very funny, some of them in the Woody Allen/Mel Brooks tradition of twitting the Holocaust, many more in the style of stereotype music-hall Jewry – Fiddler on the Roof, a bagel, a shrug of the shoulders and an “oy”. There’s also a more measured, thoughtful film trying to struggle out between the jokes as The Infidel picks its way carefully through the cultural minefield, one that is struggling to assert an “and” version of notions of culture, religion and identity rather than an “either/or”.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Good jokes, written by one stand-up, delivered brilliantly by another
  • Soundtrack by Erran Baron Cohen, brother of Sacha
  • A comic handling of a delicate subject
  • The performance of Richard Schiff, hot from The West Wing

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

The Infidel – at Amazon