Dir. Josh Appignanesi. UK. 2010.

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Written by David Baddiel, himself a Jewish man, and starring one of Britain’s best entertainers Omid Djalili; we are presented with the story of Mahmud (Djalili), a proud Muslim but not an extremist in his views (he forgets verses of the Qu’ran) who after an accident finds out that he was actually born Jewish, and later adopted whilst still a newborn – his birth name is Solly Schimshillewitz.  

What follows is the initial anxiety of the situation, as he tries to come to terms with the fact that he is born Jewish but nurtured into becoming a Muslim – he attempts to walk into a synagogue and sees his face on all the Orthodox Jews.  He should be resentful towards Jewish people and yet he is intrigued to learn more.  This quest for learning leads him to approach a cab driver Lenny Goldberg (Richard Schiff – The West Wing), who in spite of indifferences is happy to help Mahmud learn and reconnect possibly with his birth father before he passes away in spite of the obstacles placed in front of him by a pesky rabbi (Matt Lucas).
The funniest scenes of the film are these between Mahmud and Lenny as they start chanting ‘Oy vye’ and dancing to ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ so he can be passed off as Jew at a Bar Mitzvah, the necessity to insert some laughs at this point of the film is much needed and the chemistry between two talented actors is evident.

While the film does make some genuine thought-provoking points on the idea of identity, class, religion and how all of these are coupled in society.  However, there seems to be a need by Baddiel to tick a lot of ethnic minority boxes; Lenny ultimately takes a shine to a black Nurse at Schimshillewitz’s nursing home.  The scene where the whole neighbourhood descends on Mahmud’s house after he is seen on tape burning a Jewish motif – he cries out the truth, alienating himself from his son who adores him and the people who thought they knew him.   

The climax where Mahmud confronts cleric, Arshad El Masri, on identity and a plea for acceptance is tame in comparison to the edgy material before it, this is unfortunate and more a trap of film length and the need for a happy ending.  The punchline about El Masri’s upbringing is a cheap shot at a religion that is even more cliché than Jewishness.

Whilst it is a pleasure to see Djalili in a lead performance of a feature length film, the film struck me as something that would have worked better on the BBC as a feature length drama that would have been lauded and garnished with awards from Bafta (a la anything starring Julie Walters); this might be a trick missed by the producers but in years to come the film may become something to cherish and look back on fondly with its message of acceptance and identity being quite prescient in this current political climate.
Jamie Garwood

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