The Insult (Ziad Doueiri, 2017): Lebanon

Reviewed by Diana Diaz. Viewed at the SBIFF 2018.

In The Insult, a personal dispute and personal violence explodes into a national sensation, opening old wounds between Lebanese Christians and Palestinian refugees.The film’s prologue places Tony (Adel Karam) at a rally for a Lebanese christian political party with national flags flying.  The narrative proper starts with an illegal drain pipe and a spray of water which falls on Yasser (Lamel El Basha).  When Yasser fixes the open pipe, Tony destroys it.  When Yasser goes to apologize, Tony baits him snarling along with the nationalist leader he’s been watching, “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped all of you out.” One insult leads to another.  Yasser socks him in the gut, breaking a rib.

In the process of dragging their complaint through the court system, they ignite a powder keg of controversy, risk losing everything, cause their wives to suffer, and tear the country asunder when all they really want from each other is an apology.  Even the lawyers turn out to have some personal skin in the game.  In the process, Tony and Yasser learn they aren’t so different from each other after all.  This film serves as a lesson that hate can easily get out of control.

Courtroom dramas, take some liberties with real court processes with surprise evidence that changes everything at the last minute.  While the Lebanese court system certainly has some variations in their laws compared to the US court system, this particular moment of “evidence” actually sheds light on a character’s background and motivations.  Real court is really boring and involves a lot of paperwork.

But what really makes this film work is the casting and the acting.  Even if Lebanon isn’t exactly known for its film industry, the actors have all done stage work.  Rita Hayek as Tony’s wife Shirine knows her way around the camera, and delivers a particularly affecting performance.  And Yasser’s wife, Manal is the picture of longsuffering patience.  And the men at each others throats give their performances a totally committed schoolboy zeal.

Douieri, who co-wrote and directed the film, served as camera operator for Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) and Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997).  Armed with what he learned in Hollywood, he returned to Lebanon and transformed into writer/director auteur of 3 features prior to The Insult.  It is The Insult which garnered him and the cast with multiple honors at festivals and a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars.

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