The Insult

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The Insult  (2017)    Cohen Media/Drama    RT: 112 minutes    Rated R (language, some violent images)    Director: Ziad Doueiri    Screenplay: Ziad Doueiri and Joelle Touma    Music: Eric Neveux    Cinematography: Tommaso Fiorilli    Release date: February 2, 2018 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud, Rita Hayek, Talal Jurdi, Christine Choueiri, Julia Kassar, Rifaat Torbey, Carlos Chahine.      Spoken in Arabic w/English subtitles

 

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“Sticks and stones can break your bones but words cause permanent damage.”  (Barry Champlain, Talk Radio).

 These words have stuck with me ever since I first saw Oliver Stone’s 1988 adaptation of the play by Eric Bogosian who also plays the lead role. As a child, well-meaning adults recite the “Sticks and Stones” to children as a way of teaching them to cope with name-calling. The part that goes “names will never hurt me” is as big a lie as “the dog ate my homework” and “the check is in the mail”. Words carry with them great power. They can evoke strong emotional responses and cannot be taken back. Once they’re out there, that’s it. This is a lesson many adults still haven’t learned.

 the insult posterIn The Insult, poorly chosen words spoken in the heat of anger lead to the reigniting of hostilities between Christians and Palestinians in Beirut. It all starts with a disagreement between two men; hot-headed Lebanese Christian Tony Hanna (Karam) and taciturn Palestinian refugee Yasser Salameh (El Basha). Yasser, a construction foreman, offers to fix an illegal pipe on Tony’s balcony. Tony slams the door in his face. Yasser and his guys fix it anyway. Tony comes out and smashes the new pipe. Yasser calls him a “f-ing prick”. Tony demands an apology. Yasser’s boss urges him to apologize. When he goes to do so, Tony antagonizes him further by saying something you shouldn’t say to a Palestinian. Yasser hits him, breaking two ribs in the process. It just keeps on escalating from there.

 The two involved parties find themselves in court twice. When the criminal case is dismissed, Tony takes Yasser to civil court to sue for damages and an apology. By this time, the stress of the situation has caused Tony’s wife Shirine (Hayek) health problems related to her pregnancy. He’s represented by grandstanding Christian trial lawyer Wajdi (Salameh) while Yasser is defended by a brilliant and dedicated young female attorney, Nadine (Abboud). As the trial progresses, the tensions between the people of Lebanon and the Palestinian refugees grows worse.

 There’s a reason The Insult is up for this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar. Simply put, it’s a powerful piece of filmmaking. Even if you don’t know anything about this particular situation, you’ll probably be able to relate. It’s not unlike several similar situations throughout history like the pre-Civil Rights race problems in the American South. The Christians don’t want the Palestinians. They walk on eggshells trying to get along with people who hate them for no other reason than race. Tony’s hatred for them is personal. When Yasser goes to Tony’s place of work to apologize, he’s listening to a hate-filled speech from a right-wing Christian politician. This is why he’s hesitant to offer an apology. What earthly good would it do? There’s no getting through to somebody like this. Tony’s mind is made up about his perceived enemy. Both men are guilty of the sin of pride.

 The Insult accomplishes the rare feat of succeeding in every aspect of filmmaking starting with great performances all around, especially from the two leads. Karam, as Tony, really makes you hate the guy and his racist attitudes towards Palestinians. This guy really is a prick. He insists on getting what he’s feels is his due even if it means risking his family. One of the amazing things The Insult does is make us sympathize with Tony (a little bit) by gradually revealing the reason behind his anger. El Basha is also very good as Yasser, a proud man who won’t reveal what Tony said to him at the garage that day even though it would likely exonerate him. No matter how much he resents the guy, he doesn’t want to risk making the problem bigger. Hayek is quite good as Tony’s wife; she loves him but wants him to swallow his pride and drop the issue before things get worse.

 Directed by Ziad Doueiri (The Attack), The Insult is nothing short of brilliant. It puts him on par with other great international filmmakers like Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) and Costa-Gavras (Missing). His 2012 terrorist-themed drama The Attack caused the Lebanese-born director to be arrested in his home country. He came of age in Lebanon in the 80s and saw first-hands the effects of civil war. He uses his experiences to drive The Insult. The screenplay by Doueiri and Joelle Touma is well-written. The score by Eric Neveux is electrifying. The cinematography by Tommaso Fiorilli is top-notch. It’s a riveting film that commands your attention the entire time. It has something to say about the many conflicts in the Middle East and does so in a way that’s accessible to audiences from all over the world. It’s also a testament to the power of words and the damage that comes in their wake. The Insult is an absolute must-see and a strong contender for the golden statuette.

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