Since most of what we’re fed about the Middle East is about war and strife, it’s always good to see a film about regular people set there. And since Lebanon is relatively missing from the news cycle these days, it’s illuminating to see one of their big films. The Insult isn’t lacking the political element though. It’s the story of two proud men, one a Lebanese Christian and a one Palestinian Muslim, who turn a small incident into a personal war that ripples through modern day Beirut. It’s a tense story exploring the rifts in the civil society of Lebanon, with Palestinian refugees being the outsiders and Christians in power, that turns into an edge of your seat courtroom drama and a case that rests on the power of words. And it’s Lebanon’s very worthy Oscar contender this time around.
It all begins when Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha) who is in the neighborhood working on a building across the street gets water on his head from a broken gutter pipe. He asks the resident of the apartment if he can fix it — for free. But the resident, mechanic Toni Hanna (Adel Karam), takes one look at him and slams the door. And when Yasser fixes it anyway, Toni breaks it. And Yasser insults him. Toni demands an apology, and local power dynamics being what they are — Palestinians are not legally permitted to work these jobs — Yasser is forced by his boss to go to Toni to apologize. But when he arrives at Toni’s garage to patch things up face to face, Toni is watching videos of a vitriolic anti-Palestinian leader, and soon their detente turns to slurs and escalates into an assault. And that takes the men to court. And the case is a brilliant dissection of the ethnic divides and the history of atrocities and hatred in Lebanon and the Middle East.
The film is very evenly weighted and you come away understanding both men’s points of view. And most of us will know a lot more about Lebanon than we did going in. It’s a sad and aggravating history. But the film is very well acted and shot and definitely not like anything else you’re going to see this year. I recommend it to foreign film lovers and anyone who appreciates a different view of the Middle East from what American films depict. You’ll probably want to read up a bit afterwards (I did), but you don’t need to know anything about Lebanon going in.
[Mainstream Chick’s take: I totally agree with Arty on this one. I’m not a huge foreign film buff but The Insult was surprisingly interesting, engaging and thought-provoking, and it definitely benefits from excellent performances by the lead and supporting actors. -hb]