Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Josh Appignanesi, director
David Baddiel, script
Starring: Omid Djalili (Mahmud Nasir/Solly), Richard Schiff (Lenny Goldberg), Archie Panjabi (Saamiya Nasir), Yigal Naor (Arshad El Masri), Amit Shah (Rashid Nasir), Soraya Radford (Uzma)
Mahmud Nasri has a problem. The rotund, high-spirited London-based owner of a mini-cab company with a beautiful wife and two great kids is suffering through a mid-life crisis, but not for obscure psychological reasons.
His difficulties are all too real: when Mahmud’s mother dies and he goes through her personal effects, he discovers that he was adopted. A greater shock occurs when he finds out that his birth name isn’t Jamil or Ali—it’s Solly.
No wonder he supported Spurs instead of West Ham! (Ok—that was a British joke; the London football club Tottenham Hotspur is England’s “Jewish” team.)
Apart from sorting out his sporting predilections, Mahmud has to figure out who he is and what version of the Lord he’d like to support.
Since his mates and family are all Moslems, Mahmud turns to Lenny, a rival taxi driver, who is Jewish, to help him. Bemused, Lenny gives “Solly” lessons in being a Jew—learning how to say “oy,” dancing like a slightly drunk Russian and telling long, rambling jokes.
Things aren’t great at home. Mahumd’s wife is suspicious and his son is focused on marrying a lovely young woman whose mother has just gotten together with a fanatical right-wing Islamist named Arshad El Masri.
You know that Mahmud’s world has to come undone—and it does, in surprising, very funny ways.
The Infidel is an engaging British comedy: rude and pointed, with some marvelous set pieces. The film is a vehicle for the great stand-up comedian Omid Djalili, who is brilliant as Mahmud/Solly. Matching him in the Jewish scenes is the thin, acerbic Richard Schiff as Lenny. Cast as charming foils to Mahmud’s indecisiveness are Archie Panjabi and Amit Shah as his wife and son.
One film won’t stop prejudice against Jews or Moslems but The Infidel reminds us that, at heart, we’re all the same. In a time of extremism and lack of humour or civility, that’s a great lesson to embrace again. Let’s hope that The Infidel is a late, great summer hit.