So, what’s a 40-year-old husband to do, when his wife announces she wants to go to a Tupperware-Party, at short notice. No way to go out alone to one of those places that play the loud and noisy music he enjoys, with a kid at home. Too short of a notice to get friends over. Nothing on TV, as usual. As I write this, I realize I should have followed Bob Geldof’s advice and pick a book of short stories by Tobias Wolff, but I didn’t think of that, at the time. I also didn’t browse my video-on-demand catalogue, mainly because I live in one of those backward areas as don’t have sufficiently broadbandish internet access. Instead, I did what I meant to do ever since we moved here, six years ago: I got myself a membership with the local video library.
The movie I took home was The Infidel, starring Omid Djalili. It didn’t quite replace Hot Fuzz as my favorite-movie-of-the-century-that-is-not-based-on-a-Tolkien-novel, though I thoroughly enjoyed it. It doesn’t have the latter’s gag-frequency, it’s not as hilarious, and not as hilarious as I expected it to be. In contrast to Hot Fuzz, though, The Infidel is not a parody. And because of that, not every scene contains a playfully mocking quotation of something, where the simple recognition of the quotation already makes you want to smile. This is not saying that Hot Fuzz leaves it at that. Take for example the long scene where the inspector cuts an argument between Nick and the Andes short by sending Nick and Danny to talk to a farmer who cut a neighbor’s hedges without permission. In that entire scene, up to where they carry the whole, enormous collection of assorted firearms they find in the farmer’s shed (after the Andes had pointed out that everybody and their mums carry guns in the country) to the hitherto empty evidence room, every single moment, every facial expression, every line of dialogue, up to the cuts and camera movements, are mind-blowingly absurd. And sure, the whole basic premise of The Infidel is quite absurd, too. The liberal muslim who needs to appear like a strict one for his son to be able to marry his beloved and then finds out he was a Jew by birth has all the potential for absurdity you can want. However, where Hot Fuzz works from the normal to the absurd by exaggeration, where the entire complicated theory to explain the various murders collapses into a pile of petty grievances the proto-fascist NWA has with crusty jugglers, The Infidel works the other way round. It takes the absurd setting and certainly gives us some absurd or even slapstick moments. But, generally, it works towards the normal, towards the regular, every-day life kind of worries and cares of a family-man with various expectations tugging at him from all sides. And while I did laugh some and at the same time wouldn’t have minded to have laughed more, the realization of Mahmud’s motives turns some of the loud laughs into sympathetic chuckles. Mahmud gets himself into all sorts of awkward situations, but he does so to meet the father he’s never known, for his son, to find out about himself, etc. All of these things make a hint of tragedy shine through the comedy and make the protagonist and the movie very amiable.
Obviously, though, the movie attempted to do more than that, or the author would not have needed to pick a topic as controversial as the relationship between Jews and Muslims. I wonder what would have happened if they’d tried to shoot the scene where Mahmud burns his kippah somewhere in central Berlin. Here in Germany, the topic may be even a bit more special than elsewhere. As a matter of fact, I was looking out for the movie in cinemas in my vicinity ever since having seen the trailer on the Austrian music television GoTV, but could not find it playing anywhere. Which is a bit sad, because I feel the movie is actually highly educational. It is true, Germany does have some coverage of the topic in the media. There is the TV series Entweder Broder in which a muslim political scientist and a jewish publicist travel through Germany in classic road-movie fashion, do interviews and generally chat about current issues. Those guys, though, are pretty smart, witty, sometimes sharp, and it takes an audience that has already developed a very relaxed attitude to take what’s being said with a grain of salt. The kind of excitement that’s swollen up around this series proves that the latter is not plentiful. The Infidel, in contrast, helps build up a relaxed attitude by stressing the commonality through the unlikely friendship between Mahmud and Lenny. It’s highly improbable that a movie will help improve the situation in the Near East, but I’d be more than satisfied if it got a few people in the western hemisphere to treat each other with more open a mind.