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UK comedies tackle Jews, Muslims, suicide bombers

April 9, 2010

Infidel.jpgAs in all walks of life, where to draw the line is one of the big questions that faces the world of the arts.

In a field where shock value is a particularly prized commodity, artists — be they painters, film makers, musicians or authors – are constantly being criticised for going too far in what they paint/direct/sing/write.

The debate is back in the headlines in Britain with the new comedy “Four Lions“, a movie due out on May 7 that follows four hapless suicide bombers who plan to blow themselves, and many others, up at the London Marathon. The storyline from writer/director Chris Morris bears several similarities to the real-life suicide attacks on London commuters in 2005 that killed 52 people, and so to describe Four Lions as “controversial” might be an understatement. Making fun out of tragedy? Risking the ire of the Muslim community?

Publicity-shy Morris has a reputation for upsetting people. In 2001 he was behind a mock documentary on the subject of paedophilia which prompted hundreds of complaints from television viewers. Now the man the Times called “the most hated man in Britain” is bracing for another backlash, although he believes that the only controversy surrounding his work is that created by the media.

Also out this week in Britain is “The Infidel“, another comedy about a Muslim who faces an identity crisis when he discovers he was actually born a Jew. The Londoner, played by Omid Djalili pictured here embracing writer David Baddiel, is buffeted by two communities who deeply mistrust each other, and his attempts to keep all sides happy lead to confusion, embarrassment and loneliness.

Is it right to make a comedy out of Jewish-Arab tensions, or suicide bombers? Or are people going too far? Indeed, is it possible for an artist to go too far? Writer Philip Pullman recently asserted that “no one has the right to live without being shocked”, when asked to defend his recent book about Jesus. Do you agree?

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