Saturday, February 3, 2018

Movie with Abe: The Insult

The Insult
Directed by Ziad Doueiri
Released January 12, 2018

Words do have a tremendous power, and many conflicts in history could likely have been avoided if cooler heads had prevailed and things uttered on both sides had been censored and cast aside without letting them fester into something more emphatic. Previous films and TV series, like “The Slap,” have explored the consequences of one seemingly insignificant action, and this film, from Lebanon, follows the aftermath of a simple unpleasant exchange and just how much it can evolve into something destructive and so far from the place where both parties started.

Tony (Adel Karam) lives in Beirut with his pregnant wife. The Lebanese Christian is a proud member of a right-wing party that frequently demonizes the Palestinian population of his country as a scourge on Lebanon that has no place anywhere. When a Palestinian refugee, Yasser (Kamel El Basha), shows up at his door to fix an illegal pipe he has installed, Tony reacts angrily, prompting an insult in response from Yasser. Furious, Tony demands an apology, and when Yasser refuses to give him one, the situation escalates considerably, ultimately ending up in court where both men appear to be on trial for their conflicting views and defenses of their actions.

This film, which scored an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, offers an incredible portrait of how life in the Middle East can be complicated, using specifics that turn this into a symbolic case representing the clashing of two cultures. Tony is seen as a Zionist sympathizer with no regard for the rights of the Palestinians to exist anywhere, while Yasser is perceived as a drain on resources and an affront to Lebanese purity. One small argument turns into a national conversation, pitting people against each other with hatred in their hearts simply because of what accent the other speaks with and where they were born.

This film succeeds mainly in its courtroom portrayal of a case that gets out of the hands of the two men who started it, with lawyers deriding each other for claiming that the other is a victim or a legitimate attacker. Its quieter moments, like a stalled car that forces the two men to look at each other as human beings first, are extremely effective, and there are no simple solutions here, like a predictably happy ending in which everyone’s problems are solved. Karam and Basha are both superb, as are Diamand Bou Abboud and Camille Salameh as their respective lawyers. This represents Lebanon’s first outing at the Academy Awards, and it’s quite a film – furiously intriguing, thought-provoking, and immensely watchable, delivering a message and telling a terrific story on screen at the same time.


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