The melodramatic treatment of its politically-charged subject matter prevents the film from hitting the high notes of a truly thought-provoking work, but it is no doubt riveting and accessible to a wide audience.
Dir. Ziad Doueiri
2017 | Lebanon | Drama | 113 mins | 2.35:1 | Arabic
PG13 (passed clean) for language and some violent images
Cast: Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud, Rita Hayek
Plot: After an emotional exchange between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee escalates, the men end up in a court case that gets national attention.
Awards: Won Best Actor (Venice). Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Academy Awards)
International Sales: Indie Sales
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed at the Middle East Film Festival ’19)
The Insult is the first Lebanese film to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and among its numerous awards, one has stood out as particularly significant—the Venice Film Festival’s Best Actor win for Kamel El Basha in only his second feature film as an actor.
El Basha, a veteran Palestinian stage actor since the 1980s, plays Yasser, a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon working (illegally) as a ground manager for a construction firm doing repair works on the streets. One day, while doing his job, he ‘accidentally’ gets dirty water on himself from an overhead pipe linked to a nearby apartment with a Lebanese Christian in residence.
Tony Hanna (Adel Karam), the Lebanese, demands a face-to-face apology from Yasser after the latter modifies the former’s sewer piping without his permission, and things escalate as quick as setting fire to a can of petroleum. And indeed, that could be an apt metaphor for this politically-charged work where it deals with the dark side of racism, religious intolerance, divisive socio-politics and traumatic history between two warring factions—the ‘victimised’ Palestinians and the Lebanese ‘aggressors’ as symbolised by the explosive conflict between the struggling Yasser and justice-seeking Tony.
“No one has a monopoly on suffering.”
Justice is a core theme of The Insult, directed with melodramatic flair by Ziad Doueiri in his fourth feature. In fact, much of the film centers on the legal battle between the two aggrieved parties in a courthouse, but lest you think it is going to be a drab affair, The Insult is absolutely riveting and will entertain as well as educate viewers in the process. This is not an arthouse film at all, and even general mainstream audiences (if they ever chance upon it) will find it a wonderful discovery.
While El Basha’s performance is deserving of any award, Karam’s performance as Tony sometimes feel one-dimensional in the sense that his characterisation isn’t as ambiguous as El Basha’s, often playing to type of a seemingly righteous man, and sometimes to a fault. This imbalance (though not at all a serious problem) does become obvious when the two men square off in several scenes.
Another issue is that Doueiri’s work is less cinematic than it thinks it is, which is why when coupled with its heightened melodrama, it can feel as if one is binge watching several short episodes of a series. On the contrary, that is also precisely the reason for its wide accessibility.