THE INSULT/ L’INSULTE. Lebanon, 2017. Starring Adel Karam, Kamel El Bashah, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud, Rita Hayek, Talal Jurdi, Christine Choueri, Julia Kassar. Directed by Ziad Doueiri 112 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language).
A film to be recommended. It was the Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film from Lebanon for 2017.
The title is very straightforward. And, in some ways, so is the incident which leads to the insult but does not anticipate many of the dire consequences.
It can be said at the beginning of this review that the director has explained that his screenplay is based on a real incident, and that it involved himself, an outburst of criticism and insult to a plumber. The consequences were not as he expected and they made demands on him for some kind of reconciliation – but it provided personal experience on which to base a screenplay which takes the insult much further.
It is not necessary to know a great deal of the history of Lebanon in recent decades to appreciate this film. It is something of an allegory of resentments, hatreds, angers and conflicts in the Middle East. However, it introduces immediately a militant Christian group in Lebanon and its fierce loyalties, as well as a background of hate talk on the radio. The central character, Tony, is a garage mechanic in Beirut, a Christian area which contrasts with the Palestinian camps. The other character is Yasser, a Palestinian refugee, living in a camp, a calm man generally who is supervising building sites with great success and finesse.
The insult incident is trivial in many ways, Tony hosing his balcony, an open pipe spilling the water onto passes by. Yasser confronts Tony, tries to fix the pipe, Tony smashing it, leading to a verbal confrontation, provocative because of the hate messages on the radio, and a punch which leads to broken ribs in hospital. Tony demands an apology of Yasser. Yasser is not prepared to give it.
This part of the drama is interesting in itself, the director creating quite a sense of tension, Tony absolutely fixed and rigid in his stances and prejudices, Yasser remaining calm but then provoked.
The main part of the action of the film actually takes place in the court. Tony decides to sue Yasser. A top Beirut lawyer, Christian, interviews Tony and prepares a spirited and somewhat bigoted prosecution of Yasser. The irony is that Yasser’s defence lawyer is the daughter of the prosecutor, her first case, quite a rivalry. There are three judges who preside – and the trial proceeds with interrogation of witnesses but spontaneous interventions from both lawyers.
The trial gives the opportunity to the audience to appreciate what is behind the hostility, the experience of the Palestinians, the behaviour of Israel, the role of the PLO, the refugees in camps in Lebanon. But it also gives the opportunity to appreciate the experience of the civil war in Lebanon in the 1970s, the role of PLO and Palestinians, massacres in Christian villages and still-unresolved animosities.
While the film is involving and itself, audiences off-put by the angry Tony, appreciating the calmness of Yasser (and the introduction of complications of Yasser’s behaviour when he was a young man in the camps and involved in violence), the film asks its audience to think about the conflicts in the Middle East, what is behind them, and possible solutions for peace if not reconciliation.
Palace Released August 30th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.