Ziad Doueiri’s Oscar nominated film, The Insult (L’insulte) could be called Pride & Prejudice. This isn’t because this Lebanese drama has anything to do with Jane Austen. Rather, it is because this film is all about how one minor conflict between two men escalates because of a combination of hubris and hatred. It seems that even in a modern world, loathing amongst ancient rivals can manifest in different ways.
This film is co-written by Joelle Touma and Doueiri, who has previously worked with Quentin Tarantino. The setting is Lebanon, a country that was subject to a complicated civil war between 1975 and 1990. This is not described in any great detail here. Rather, it is alluded to in the story in the form of some simmering tensions that snowball out of control.
Kamel El Basha plays Yasser Salameh, a Palestinian refugee who is stateless and often mistreated in his adopted country. He works as a construction foreman. He and his team are employed to fix some illegal drainpipes in a local neighbourhood. That sounds like easy enough work, right? Well, it isn’t.
When the men come to do their jobs they encounter Tony Hanna (Adel Karam), a hot-headed Lebanese Christian who antagonises the group by spilling dirty water on them. Salameh retaliates by calling Tony, “A f**king prick!” Hanna wants him to apologise but Salameh refuses. This petty squabble proves to be a catalyst for another violent episode between the pair, which lands them both in court.
A lot of the film plays out in a rather objective-manner in the courtroom. Each man presents his case and is represented by his own counsel. Tony’s lawyer is played by Camille Salameh while Yasser’s representative is performed by Diamand Bou Abboud. The content of the trial proves to be so inflammatory that supporters from each side take out their aggression on one another outside of court. The media also get involved and cause a frenzy. This presentation is designed to make you stop and think, even if the case is a tad long and protracted at times.
Tony’s heavily pregnant wife Shirine (Rita Hayek) is a voice in reason amidst all of this chaos. She admonishes her aggressive, testosterone-fuelled husband. She says he will gladly burn things but he won’t turn the page. It’s a searing reminder that we are all capable of anger and suffering but we differ in our capacities to forgive and forget.
The Insult is a well-acted, character-driven drama about some important topics including: hate crimes, free speech and history. This tense, contemporary tale is a sobering look at two separate sides and the bitter aftermath that can stem from a dark confrontation. At the end of this argument there are no winners or losers; no good or bad guys; you just get a sense of this underlying argument’s futility and its varying shades of grey.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Insult is in Australian cinemas on August 30th. A list of cinemas screening the film is available on the official website: theinsult.com.au.