The Insult (original title L’insulte)
Directed by: Ziad Doueiri
Starring: Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Rita Hayek, Camille Salameh, Diamand Abou Abboud, Talal El Jurdi, Christine Choueiri, Julia Kassar, Rifaat Torbey, Carlos Chahine
Run Time: 1h 52 min
4 Frames out of 5 (Subtitled)
By: Shari K. Green
This movie is the ultimate story of someone needing to make peace with his past to have any sort of future. Lebanese director, writer and cinematographer, Ziad Doueiri, (West of Beirut, The Attack), who worked under Quentin Tarantino, can rest easy if he was attempting to make his magnum opus… because he just did.
At the beginning of the film, a message pops up that reads, the opinions in this film do not reflect the official policy or position of the Lebanese government. Knowing the film is a drama and not a documentary, I found that interesting. The Insult tells the story of Tony Hanna, played magnificently by Adel Karam who had to balance frustration, hate and anger with forbearing. Karam achieves a fantastic counterbalance which makes you both like and dislike him at the same time. It couldn’t have been easy. Tony is a Lebanese Christian who gets upset when he perceives just a misunderstanding to be a terrible insult; a slap in the face, if you will. To be insulted in his homeland of Beirut is one thing, to be disgraced in his own home is another.
The manager of the residential building in which Tony resides allows the foreman of a construction company, Yasser Salameh, (Kamel El Basha), a Palestinian living in a refugee camp, to fix a drainpipe as it’s getting all of his workers wet. They’re there to make repairs to the building anyway, so taking care of Tony’s pipe, which is not up to code, can get done quickly and they’ll be on their way. When Yasser tells Tony he needs to fix the pipe, Tony refuses to allow him to and closes the door in his face. He isn’t interested in change, which is part of his personality, as well. There is ultimately a reason for this, but it takes the entire film to get you there which is what makes this film so damn good. Tony’s character is revealed slowly and the justifications for his actions do come but will there be a large cost to his stubborn behavior? Who pays and why?
Without Tony’s permission, Yasser fixes the pipe. Tony then smashes and breaks it, screaming that they had no right whatsoever to make adjustments to his home when his life is fine. When the manager of the building attempts to make amends and apologize, it isn’t good enough for Tony. He wants to hear an apology from Yasser himself. When the manager finally talks Yasser into apologizing, Yasser and Tony, both very proud men, only stare at one another. When words are spoken, they are harsh and the problem escalates from there. Tony, who listens to propaganda all day, tells the Palestinian that he wished, ‘Ariel Sharon had finished you off.’ These words are more than an insult to Yasser and he strikes Tony.
What happens next is intense and dramatic, in that we see these two struggle for power yet also fight against the system. A court battle to prove guilt or innocence in what becomes a national debate ensues and the original point is skewed. Not allowing a simple fix to a pipe leads us on a journey into Tony’s dark past and it leads Yasser there, as well, which brings in the much-needed human aspect to the conflict. It’s exciting to watch these two men, both in complete control of their characters, spar. They’re willing to be imprisoned, even die if they must, but they will not lose face. The final courtroom battle is extremely powerful and I enjoyed how you know there’s something brewing inside of Tony but you just don’t know what. Kudos to these performers and to Doueiri for getting them there. There is much more to be revealed about this film, but I’d rather you see it for yourself. It will be up for a few Academy Awards, that I can promise. It’s surprisingly moving and, again, the acting is unforgettable. Also, in our political climate today, such films need to be seen and I’m glad they’re being made… which explains the message at the beginning of the film.