Directed by Ziad Doueiri
Country: Lebanon / France / other
“The Insult” is a drama film immersed in political complexity and racial antagonism. It was directed by Ziad Doueiri (“The Attack”), who co-wrote with Joelle Touma, and stars Adel Karam and Kamel El Basha as a Christian Lebanese and a Palestinian refugee, respectively, who, taking their pride to an extreme, have their personal squabble taken to court.
The story is set in Beirut, where Toni Hanna (Karam) runs a car garage with the help of his expecting wife Shirine (Rita Hayek). He is an angered Lebanese who tries to cope with a traumatic childhood pelted with the violence of war. Yesser Salameh (El Basha) is a competent, hardworking Palestinian foreman who works legally for a local construction company and lives in a refugee camp mounted for those known as ‘the niggers of the Arabs’. Their destinies cross, not without friction, when construction begins on the road where Toni lives.
The provocative Toni certainly doesn’t look for peace when he confronts Yesser, who, in response, insults him with a simple “fucking prick”. Curiously, it’s not the weight of the words that causes indignation but who is saying those words. The local man demands an apology, a very difficult step for Yesser, who lives with the feeling that every Lebanese look down on him. In this particular situation, he is right because Toni humiliates him once more. The exasperated Yesser loses his temper and uses violence in an uncontrolled impulse, sending Toni to the hospital with two broken ribs.
The men end up in a legal dispute, where the question about who is the aggressor and who is the victim emerges. Verbal racism has to be proved, so Yesser can continue living in the country that shelters him. Judge Nadine Wehbe (Diamand Boy Abboud) is the one to defend him and prove his innocence. She finds herself in a tug-of-war with her own father, the more experienced pre-Christian Judge Wajdi Wehbe (Camille Salameh). The media attention around the story increases the tension between Christian Lebanese and Palestinians, attaining unimaginable proportions to the point of requiring the President’s intervention.
“The Insult” was built with uneven scenes that routinely sway between perspicacious and debilitated. Doueiri opted to mix the emotional-conversational approach of Asghar Farhadi with mediocre courtroom scenes. I got a clear notion that I was being manipulated on several occasions without being given real answers.
Notwithstanding, considerable insight about the open wounds left by a devastating Middle East crisis was gleaned. And these wounds are not the most obvious.
While the direction was unexceptional, the credible performances elevated a film trying to justify the acts of its characters through a chain of emotional states that relate to trauma, loss, rancor, prejudice, and violence.