Characters in Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult debate where the disagreement began between its two main characters. It could have been from a gardening accident or from their separate traumas. The movie explores that debate. However what we also hear is one of them saying one of the worst things you can say. That titular insult between two men become bigger than them, as lawyers repeat and parse the significance of words. This is a courtroom drama about how little things grow. It reminds the audience both of how silly some cases are. But how wars start because of said silly things and remind characters of the past.
The Insult also reveals Lebanon’s race and religious history and the wounds through these two men. National metaphor in foreign cinema is a difficult thing to shake in Westernized eyes. It also examines how both genders exhibit pride. And how the whopping two females here are better at controlling that vice than men are. All of this we see through Doueiri’s camera. It’s a warm film that can point people out in crowds and focus on them when he needs to. It also freely follows these characters through Beirut’s streets, a home they’ve built for themselves. But windows are behind these characters constantly, as if there’s always an audience.
Adel Karam plays a mechanic, Toni Hanna. The movie’s opening scene shows him in a political rally for the Christian Party. That party venerates a dead racist politician while its members wears trucker hats and plaid shirts. It’s surprising that that’s a thing outside North America. And that the film eventually makes us sympathize with him is one of its miracles. Anyway, Toni loves the Christian Party as much as he loves his attractive, pregnant wife Shirine (Rita Hayek). While gardening, he accidentally gets water on Yasser (Kamel El Basha), a Palestinian foreman who throws the first insult. Days later, Yasser’s boss tries to reconcile them but makes things worse.
Somehow that encounter gets Toni to say that “I wish Ariel Sharon wiped all of you out”. Yasser then punches him in the gut literally, breaking two ribs in the process. Complications pile on this injury that happened to a man who has to work. He’s also trying to get authorities to arrest Yasser, a move that his friends agree with. These characters echo a sentiment that I assume is prevalent in Lebanese circles. That Palestinian refugees, either through mobility or past baggage, can evade convictions. This moral support helps his belief that he’s in the right. However he doesn’t know Yasser can be as stubborn as he is.
Doueiri, a Sunni Muslim, works well with his Christian co-screenwriter Joelle Touma, and they create great characters. Toni is the most constant one, irascible and comes with a very real paranoia. Shirine is another case, a woman whose loyalties change yet Hayek works to make us understand her. There’s Yasser who’s believeable in all aspects of himself. He’s both a hothead and as a surrogate dad to the other refugees whom he works with. Adding themselves to the mix are two lawyers who ingratiate themselves on both sides during the case’s appeal process. They start off as powerful but their personal grudges seep into the facades they have built.
The Insult has a good hour plus of cinema within its almost two hour running time. Which means that it has its share of filler saccharine scenes. They exist only in case we don’t end up sympathizing with the two men. It also relies on the trope that these two men have arrogance in common. A film about a frivolous court case is hard to pull off. And the lawyers have fun in attacking every angle of it for their client’s favour. They also cross professional boundaries and drag the case for longer than a fictional one should. But that doesn’t stop the film from capturing a receptive audience.
- Release Date: 1/26/2018