The Durban International Film Festival’s line-up offered three highly entertaining and comedic movies, two of which — “The Infidel” and “Four Lions” — were highly rated. The third, “Attack of the Indian Werewolf” by first time filmmaker Masood Boomgard, who wrote, produced and directed the spoof horror flick, initially appeared to be a piece of slapstick stupidity.
However, it turned out to be pretty good, and I found myself laughing hysterically throughout. A timid, hardworking salesman transforms into a werewolf after eating a mystical jadoo (magic) bean.
He goes on a killing spree, and an intrepid journalist who’s infuriated by the incompetent cops, discovers the truth, and falls in love with him. Using a local Durban cast and a mix of trained and untrained actors, Boomgard created a home-grown cult classic, capturing the quirkiness of the Durban Indian community with precision.
Bad pun alert. I had no prior expectations of being blown away by “Four Lions,” Chris Morris’s dark comedy about four suicide bombers who hijack the London Marathon, but I found it explosively funny, even when I wanted to weep. Tears were hijacked by mirth. The jokes may bomb on some, but most will see it for what it is — a satirical poke at terrorists, not terrorism.
However, as the BBC reported, some families who lost loved ones in the July 7 tube bombings, appealed to cinemas not to screen the film.
“Four Lions” came about after reclusive British comedy icon Morris read the story about a plot to ram a US warship. The members of the cell loaded their boat with too many explosives. “It sank. I laughed. I wasn’t expecting that,” says Morris.
The five ideologically confused characters are candidly shown for what they are: lost. In their meaningless lives, they seek recognition. Enamoured by the drama and macabre fame attached to being suicide bombers, they seek to find themselves.
But there are no deeper themes to debate, no moral or ethical dilemmas to wrestle over. The dim-wittedness and thus shallowness of the characters is the film’s blinding brilliance.
Omar (Riz Ahmed) is the brainy one in the group, while Waj (Kayvan Novak) is the idiot. Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is the radical white convert and Faizel (Adeel Akhtar) is the timid dimwit. Hassan (Arsher Ali) is recruited by Barry at a government forum engaging with Muslims.
The film opens with the initial four, Omar, Waj, Faizel and Barry, recording their ‘martyrdom videos.’ Immediately they are shown as inept and ignorant. Faizel classically comments, “I can’t be on TV. My dad says TV is haram.”
When Faizel accidentally dies while running into a sheep, carrying a packet of explosives, Omar is livid with Barry who calls Faizel a martyr. “Is he a martyr or a jalfrezi?” he rages.
Beneath the gags, there’s a current of seriousness. Omar’s brother is Salafi minded: religious, anti-terrorism and apolitical, but ultimately he faces rendition after Omar blows himself, and others, up. He’s arrested, taken to a container at an airport base, and told, “You’re now in the sovereign state of Egypt where you will be tortured.”
The dangerous aspect of “Four Lions” is that it could be seen as enforcing stereotypes about young British Asians taking the route of jihad. Riz Ahmed disagrees, “The film is not about Islam or ideology. It’s about five misguided characters. People aren’t as stupid as we tend to think they are. They’ll see it for what it is.”
“The Infidel” was the closing film of DIFF, drawing a huge crowd. Disappointingly, it failed to deliver. Written by Jewish stand-up comic David Baddiel, with Muslim British comedian Shazia Mirza as a script consultant, there were some scintillating lines (which fell flat on most of the audience), but overall the plot was convoluted and lacked direction.
Mahmoud, played by British-Iranian stand-up comedian Omid Djalili, is a semi-practicing Muslim, loveable husband and doting father of two. His son is in love with the stepdaughter of a hardliner Egyptian cleric, and urges his father to act like a good Muslim at the proposal. When his mother dies, Mahmoud is shocked to discover he was adopted and even worse, was born Jewish. His birth name was Solly Shimshelliwitz.
The distressed Mahmoud-turned-Solly tumbles headlong into an identity crisis of epic ethnic proportions, turning to an alcoholic Jewish cab driver (Richard Schiff) to give him lessons in the art of Jewishness. He attends a bar-mitzvah and passes as a Jew. After he’s inadvertently drawn into burning a Jewish yarmulke at a pro-Palestinian rally, the police arrive at his home to arrest him, on the day of the proposal. His family hate him for lying and spoiling his son’s engagement, and so he goes on a quest to discover who he really is.
A showdown with the cleric at the end is a ridiculous finish for a promising start.
The distressed Mahmoud-turned-Solly (Omid Djalili) tumbles headlong into an identity crisis, turning to an alcoholic Jewish cab driver (Richard Schiff) to give him lessons in the art of Jewishness in “The Infidel.”