L’insulte (The Insult ) (Ziad Doueiri, 2017) Lebanon

Reviewed by Hollyn Heron. Viewed at Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Insult is a groundbreaking, thought provoking film, and its shows:

It is the first Lebanese film to be nominated for an Oscar.

Not only is the story gripping and emotional, but the work that went into the film is extraordinary. Cinematographer Tommaso Fiorilli (Go Home, New Territories) beautifully shows the daily life of the working class in Lebanon’s capitol, Beirut.  With images of dilapidated streets, businesses, and houses, Fiorilli perfectly details the struggles of the citizens of the city. Even before the titular “insult” takes place, we can sense the tension and aggravation in the community by the warm, bright colors that Beirut is cast in.

The powerful music is thanks to Eric Neveux (Cezanne et Moi, Up for Love), who creates a strained climate as the feud between the two men escalates.

Leading the outstanding cast is Adel Karam and Kamel El Basha, along with Rita Hayek, Diamand Bou Abboud and Camille Salameh. Their impassioned performances make them charismatic characters, and they are able to take the story to deep levels.

It all begins in a shabby apartment overlooking a busy street; a place that Lebanese Christian, Tony (Karam) and his wife Shirine (Hayek) call their home. The two are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their first child, and are hoping to be able to afford to buy their apartment soon. The two watch all along their street as constructions workers are trying to fix any broken issues in the neighborhood, when foreman, Yasser (El Basha) informs Tony that his drain on his porch needs to be repaired. Tony refuses to allow Yasser to fix the drain. Despite Tony’s insistence, he is not the owner of the apartment, and Yasser has been ordered by the city to fix all decaying structures. When Yasser fixes the drain, Tony smashes it to pieces right above the heads of the workers. It is at this point that Tony demands an apology from Yasser, who refuses. It’s here that we learn that Tony’s issue is not the drain at all, but the fact that a Palestinian Muslim was the one wanting to fix it. Tony insists that by fixing his drain without his permission, Yasser was insulting him.

The quarrel escalates to the point that Yasser’s boss drags him down to Tony’s auto repair shop so he can apologize, and the problem can be put behind them. But the plan does not go well, and the two men continue to fight, to the point where Tony tells Yasser, “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out!” These words are deeply offensive, and the delivery is incredibly hostile that it provokes Yasser into punching Tony right in the stomach, breaking two of his ribs.

The insult, and the assault are a butterfly effect that spirals their lives out of control. After the distress this has caused, Shirine goes into premature labor, which further instigates the issue. As Tony decides to sue Yasser, for the assault as well as the damage the incident has inflicted on his wife and child, he is assisted by a fierce, high profile lawyer, Wajdi Wehbe (Salameh), who is ruthless and will stop at nothing to win the case. Yasser is assisted by his own ruthless lawyer though, Nadine (Abboud) who is passionate about giving him a voice, when no one else will.

The courtroom drama becomes a national story, even gaining the attention of the President. As the trial continues, heated animosity grows in the streets between Christians and Muslims, as the proceedings are viewed as a resurrected war between the religions. But somehow, through all the divisiveness, it becomes apparent that the two men are not all that different from each other.

The Insult, from start to finish, is an emotional roller-coaster; one that will resonate with audiences in the midst of racial turmoil that the world today so often sees. There are lessons to be learned from this film, especially in the current political climate. Hopefully, films like this will continue to be made, and their messages will be heard.

 

 

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