An Innocent Act of Good Faith
Through an innocent act of good faith, Daud inadvertently becomes friendly with a group of Jewish boys who mistake him for being Jewish and accept him as one of their own. While working together on a summer project, a genuine friendship is formed between Daud and Yoav, one of the Jewish boys.
Daud is an eleven-year-old religious Muslim boy growing up in Brooklyn. While concealing his Muslim identity, he meets a group of Jewish boys who through a haphazard sequence of events mistake him for being Jewish and accept him as one of their own. Daud experiences a sense of freedom, joy, and camaraderie that he has never felt before, and for a brief time he really enjoys being a carefree Brooklyn boy. When the Jewish boys discover Daud’s true identity, his world is shattered and he is left alone, struggling to come to terms with his place in the world.
“David” is a charming, sympathetic film with a beautiful story. This is a first feature for director/co-scenarist Joel Fendelman. Daud (Muatasem Mishal) is fortunate, perhaps, but also rather burdened in being the only son of devout, conservative imam Ahmed (Maz Jobrani), who takes his community and family responsibilities equally seriously. As a result, Daud is expected not just to do well in school, but also to tutor other children at the mosque. He has no apparent playmates, or any playtime for that matter.
One day while taking his little sister to the park, he notices a group of kids who accidentally leave a book behind. They follow the group to a yeshiva, where Daud balks, scared by his father’s casual pronouncement that “Jews don’t like Arabs.” Rather than go in, he simply drops the book in a mailbox outside, later realizing to his horror that he’s swapped his grandfather’s precious Koran with the other boy’s Talmud.
Sneaking back into the school another day, he sees the Koran on a rabbi’s desk, but before he can grab it, he gets swept into class as a presumably tardy student. Identifying himself as “David,” he keeps coming back, awaiting another opportunity to access the rabbi’s frequently locked office. Meanwhile, he becomes fascinated by the boisterous, participatory methods of the teacher (Noam Weinberg) and delighted when some of the kids introduce him to basketball, and he soon gains his first best friend when an assignment pairs him with Yoav (Binyomin Shtaynberger). Eventually, everything is going to be exposed.
Meanwhile, Daud’s older sister, Aishah (Dina Shihabi), wins a scholarship to study computer engineering at Stanford. But Ahmed is hardly about to let a daughter traipse off into a secular world 3,000 miles away.
“David’s” many small virtues add up to a winning whole, its message of cultural reconciliation is presented without preaching, melodrama, easy answers or sweeping generalities. Comedian Jobrani is excellent as the rather sad but well-intentioned dad. This kid’s-eye view of Brooklyn life is just right, design.
The section of Brooklyn when young Daud lives with his family is like a mini Israel except the ’wall’ that divides the Jewish and Moslem communities is not physically visible. Daud is a very serious introspective boy and as the son of the local Imam reads his Koran religiously and even helps teach it to younger boys. One day out in the neighborhood park he spots
The film is l played out against a backdrop of how both local religious comminutes are coming to terms with how they own society is evolving. For example, David’s older sister is desperate for a way to be allowed to go to College in California even if it means marrying a local Arab boy as that is the only way her devout and strict ultra-conservative father will allow her to go.
David’s duplicity does eventually get discovered and the initial reaction from his own family and his new best Jewish friends is one of sheer horror, but after some deeper thought, the boys friendship and David/Daud’s own happiness win out in the end.
This is a noble attempt at showing us one aspect of conflicting religions and their communities trying to live side by side in peace. In a fictional story about the challenging relationship between religious Muslims and Jews, writer-director Joel Fendelman manages to avoid stereotyping and over-simplifying both communities as he captures the fearlessness and impartialness of childhood candidly, and even when the film touches on ideas like patriarchy and arranged marriage, it does so without feeling contrived or biased. This is a film that is honest and relatable, and ultimately triggers a response of tolerance and compassion.