Ziad Doueiri’s captivating film The Insult, which was recently nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category, is steeped in the politics of its Lebanon setting, but its themes are universal.
One summer afternoon in Beirut, Tony (Adel Karam) gets into an altercation with Yasser (Kamel El Basha) over a broken drainpipe. When Yasser, a construction foreman who is a refugee from Palestine, goes against Tony wishes and fixes the pipe out of obligation to the city, it leads to a heated exchange in which Yasser loses his cool. Offended by the foreman’s choice of words, Tony, a mechanic and loyal follower of the alt-right style political group The Christian Party, demands that Yasser issue an apology in person.
Believing he is in the right, and frustrated by Yasser’s reluctance to apologize, Tony hurls an insult at him that starts a chain reaction that neither man expects. Soon the dispute between these two bruised egos escalates from a local courtroom to a national debate. Simply wanting to keep their pride intact, both men soon become pawns for opportunistic lawyers and politicians who want to leverage the conflict for their own personal agendas.
Much like the central conflict at its core, The Insult is not an easy film to forget. Doueiri works hard, almost to a fault in the last act, to muddy the waters on both sides of the debate. As their spouses each point out, this fight could have easily been resolved. In many ways it was never about the drainpipe, but rather the traumatic experiences of the past that have been projected on to the unassuming gutter.
One does not need to have knowledge of the Lebanese Civil War or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to get emotionally swept up in the film. While the film tries a little too hard to redeem Tony’s perspective, especially when things spiral out of control and the men’s personal lives become a source of discussion in the media, The Insult speaks volumes to the times we live in. The prejudice and misinformed assumptions that consume each man, some of which come from extremist views of the “other”, are all too common in our current politically charged climate.
The Insult opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday.