A "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" for the 21st century, Roschdy Zem's helming debut, "Bad Faith," tackles the problems when a Jewish woman and a Muslim-Arab man have to tell their respective folks they've been sleeping with each other.

A “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” for the 21st century, Roschdy Zem’s helming debut, “Bad Faith,” tackles the problems when a Jewish woman and a Muslim-Arab man have to tell their respective folks they’ve been sleeping with each other. Non-threatening, topical comedy benefits from endearing perfs by the well-liked Zem and Cecile de France. Neither scripting nor helming will broker world peace, but this enjoyable pic should post nice returns in Gaul and be welcome at Jewish fests worldwide.

Ishmael (Zem) teaches at a Paris music conservatory and Clara (de France) works as a physical therapist with motor-impaired youngsters. The thirtysomething lovebirds think nothing of their ethnic origins and are secular vis-a-vis their assigned faiths. They’ve been happily together for four years.

Ishmael’s widowed mother (Leila Bekhti, wonderful) came from Morocco and still lives in the well-maintained housing project where Ishmael grew up. His best friend (co-scripter Pascal Elbe) is an easygoing Jew who runs a record shop like something out of “High Fidelity.”

Clara’s parents, Victor and Lucie, are comfortably well-off retirees. Dad (Jean-Pierre Cassel) devotes himself to cycling and Mom (Martine Chevallier) maintains their lovely suburban home. Also in residence is Lucie’s sister (Berangere Bonvoisin), who never wed but digs men. She and Clara are very close.

When Clara learns she’s pregnant, all the issues she and Ishmael pooh-poohed surface with a vengeance. They’re completely comfortable with each other, but breaking down and declaring their love to their families proves very sticky. There’s plenty of room for inadvertent insult and unanticipated injury.

They also start fearing the roots neither of them previously cared about will be subsumed by parenthood. Clara starts feeling a tad more Jewish; and Ishmael develops a sudden (if half-baked) interest in observing Ramadan, while insisting their unborn son will carry his late father’s clunky first name.

The prolific Zem, who’s appeared in 32 films the past decade, sprinkles a few timely political barbs throughout the narrative, whose outcome is never really in doubt. Encouragingly, the script ridicules the tendency to blame race relations in France on the ongoing conflict between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.

While the couple’s romance feels genuine, their professional lives seem more forced. Denouement is a tad clumsy, although the message is still clear. Supporting cast is fun to watch.

Bad Faith

France-Belgium

Production

A Pan-Europeenne presentation of a Pan-Europeenne Prods., France 2 Cinema, StudioCanal, Toto & Co. Films production, in association with Scope Invest, RTL-TVI, with participation of CanalPlus, CineCinema. (International sales: StudioCanal, Issy-les-Moulineaux, France.) Produced by Philippe Godeau. Executive producer, Nathalie Gastaldo. Directed by Roschdy Zem. Screenplay, Zem, Pascal Elbe, Agnes de Sacy.

Crew

Camera (color), Jerome Almeras; editor, Monica Coleman; music, Souad Massi; art drector, Marie Cheminal; costume designer, Nathalie Raoul; sound (Dolby), Pierre Mertens, Daniel Sobrino; assistant director, Hubert Barbin. Reviewed at Max Linder, Paris, Nov. 27, 2006. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Roschdy Zem, Cecile de France, Pascal Elbe, Leila Bekhti, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Martine Chevallier, Berangere Bonvoisin, Naima Elmcherqui, Antoine Chappey, Mickael Masclet, Abdelhafid Metalsi, Xavier Beauvois.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more