THE INSULT (2017): Review by Farah Elattar

Directed by Ziad Doueiri and co-written by Doueiri and Joelle Touma, The Insult deals with the Palestinian refugee crisis in modern-day Beirut. Through a rather simple story line that begins with an insult, the film gradually evolves, and is successfully able to tackle the complex issues of religion and politics in the Middle East. (FEA: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Farah Elattar

“Tony Hanna” (Adel Karam), a Lebanese Christian who lives in Beirut, cannot stand the Palestinian refugees who are living in his country. He watches radical, right-wing Christian politicians urging the country to send the refugees back to Palestine.

He is portrayed as a rather aggressive, virile man – the kind of man the viewer can sense gets into a lot of fights. As the owner of an auto repair shop, his job consists mainly in physical tasks. His wife  “Shirine” (Rita Hayek), who is pregnant when the film begins, runs the office.

On the other hand, “Yasser Salameh” (Kamel El Basha), the other protagonist of the film, is a Palestinian engineer who has made a life for himself as a project manager in Beirut, despite the heavy prejudices and regulations surrounding the employment of refugees. He is older than Tony, and appears to be the kind of man who sticks adamantly to the rules, prioritizing his family’s security in a country that is not theirs. Why does this matter, you ask? The answer lies in the spatial context: in the Middle East, religious and national background matters, and words are loaded.

When Yasser starts working in Tony’s neighborhood, tension emotions immediately start to bubble up. Then they erupt over something as simple as the drain-pipe on Tony’s balcony which violates state regulations. When Yasser offers to fix it, Tony notices his Palestinian accent, and refuses to let him into his house. Yasser fixes it anyway, and Tony proceeds to break it with a hammer in front of him. This causes Yasser to snap. He calls Tony a “f**king prick,” which leads Tony to demand an apology.

This first confrontation evolves into an unsolvable dispute that leads them into multiple courtrooms, where they attract attention from both religiously-motivated political sides of the country. Tony is defended by “Wajdi Wehbe” (Camille Salameh) – a famous Christian lawyer who previously represented Samir Geagea, an extremely radical Christian politician. His rival is defended by “Nadine Wehbe” (Diamand Bou Abboud) – a lawyer who sympathizes with the Palestinian cause, and not coincidentally, Wajdi Wehbe’s daughter.

The brilliance in this film lies in its ability to connect the public and the private in a way that shows the interdependence that exists between the two. Even the viewer who goes into the film knowing very little about Lebanese politics, will come out with a lot of information on the matter. Touma and Doueri have created an effortlessly-progressing script that starts off in the personal sphere, and slowly expands into the public sphere, to the surprise of both the characters and the viewers.

As is typical in courtroom dramas, every single detail that is relevant to the case is thoroughly explained, both for the judge’s final verdict, and indirectly for the viewer’s consideration. The viewer is thereby given a very intimate window into the loaded history of the Lebanese Civil War (including the role played by the Palestinian refugee crisis), through the layered backstories of its characters. The storyline is simultaneously unique to the Middle East, but also familiar to the foreign eye: while the nature of the conflict can occur anywhere, its carefully-selected details stay faithful to the history of modern-day Lebanon.

The cinematography also enables the film to be relatable, even to the foreign, untrained eye. Doueiri’s outstanding directing skills make for a film that is built around very telling, but minimal facial expressions. While dialogue plays an important part in the film, some key moments occurred in almost complete silence. The locations chosen for the film are not the bourgeois neighborhoods of Beirut; instead, both characters live in modest areas, which allows Doueiri to capture the beauty and humaneness that exists, even in the seemingly rough parts of the city. Despite this candid choice, the film retains aesthetically-pleasing aspect, since Doueiri places an emphasis on the expressive colors that exist among the supposed flaws of a worn neighborhood.

In essence, The Insult is a successful attempt by Doueiri and Touma to portray the human dimension of the Middle East, even if it is hidden beneath layers of conflict and superficial differences. Perhaps, with more films like this, both the domestic and the foreign eye will stop seeing this region as a barbaric conflict zone, when in reality, it can also be a breeding ground for progress, within all its culturally-rich countries.

© Farah Elattar (1/14/2018) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Adel Karam as “Toni” with  Kamel El Basha as “Yasser.”

Middle Photo: Adel Karam as “Toni.”

Bottom Photo: Adel Karam as “Toni” with Rita Hayek as “Shirine.”

Photo Credit: Cohen Media Group

Q: Does The Insult pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test? 

Although there are several strong female characters, they are all in supporting roles and they have no direct interactions with one another.

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Farah joined the FF2 Media team in January of 2018. She is a Philosophy major at Rutgers University with a minor in Women & Gender Studies, and a concentration on social justice, made possible through the Leadership Scholars Program at the Institute for Women’s Leadership. As an Egyptian woman, she sees film as a very important medium, through which the voices of the silent can be expressed. She believes that film can, and will, play an important role in changing global perspectives on problematic areas such as the Middle East which is often viewed as nothing but a conflict zone.
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