The Insult (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A gripping courtroom drama from Lebanon

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Lebanese film “The Insult”, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar early in this year, is a gripping courtroom drama about a complex legal conflict between two different men. At first, it is just a simple human matter of anger and resentment, but the situation becomes a lot more complicated as their conflict is subsequently brought into the court, and it is quite compelling to observe how their conflict is amplified through social/historical context. While their trial goes on, we come to learn more about not only these two guys but also the dark, tragic past which still lingers on their society, and we come to regard them with understanding and empathy even though we do not wholly side with either of them.

In the beginning, we meet Tony Hanna (Adel Karam), a Christian Lebanese who is a devoted member of the Christian Party in Lebanon as shown from the opening scene. He is the owner of a small garage in his urban neighborhood, and he and his wife Shirine (Rita Hayek) have been eagerly waiting for the birth of their daughter. Although we sense some strain in their relationship when they disagree with each other on their current residence, they are mostly happy to be with each other, and Tony certainly wants to do as much as he can for providing a safe and comfortable environment for his pregnant wife.

On one day, a construction crew happens to work right in front of the apartment building where Tony and Shirine live, and the crew comes across an annoying problem involved with a gutter below the veranda of Tony’s apartment. Yasser Abdallah Salameh (Kamel El Basha), the Palestinian foreman of the crew, decides to put a new gutter below the veranda, but Tony promptly smashes this new gutter, and he even does not allow Yasser and his crew to come into his apartment just because he does not want Shirine to be disturbed by any noise. Naturally becoming exasperated by this frustrating circumstance, Yasser hurls an insult at Tony, and Tony soon comes to Yasser’s direct boss for demanding the apology from Yasser.

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Yasser’s direct boss tries to take care of this trouble without any unnecessary fuss. While convincing Yasser that he must give Tony what he wants, he also goes to Shirine for persuading Tony to be less adamant in his position, but, unfortunately, both Tony and Yasser come to make the situation worse than before. When Yasser and his direct boss come to Tony’s garage, Tony happens to be listening to the aggressive propaganda of his right-wing party as usual, and he does not even hide at all his hostility toward Yasser and other Palestinian people in Lebanon. When Tony says something quite hateful and insulting to Yasser, Yasser finally loses his calm control, and then he throws a hard punch at Tony.

After getting seriously injured because of this, Tony tries to sue Yasser, but he only finds himself becoming angrier than before. After submitting himself to the police a few days later, Yasser is soon brought to a trial on the charge of battery, but neither Yasser nor Tony is willing to talk about what prompted Yasser to commit that act of violence, and the judge presiding over the case eventually decides to close the case while allowing Yasser’s release.

When another unfortunate thing happens later, Tony decides to go further for getting what he wants, and he luckily gets a pro bono legal service from a prominent lawyer who previously defended the leader of the Christian Party. While meeting Tony along with a bunch of assistants, the lawyer emphasizes to Tony how difficult the new trial will be, and Tony does not hesitate at all to accept the offer.

Meanwhile, Yasser and his wife Manal (Christine Choueiri) also hires their own lawyer, a liberal who surely opposes to the conservative viewpoint of Tony’s lawyer. When these two lawyers eventually face each other at the court, the tension between them is palpable to say the least, and then there comes an unexpected moment of surprise and amusement when the judge presiding over this new trial inadvertently blurts out a certain fact about these two ferociously competing lawyers.

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Now I should be more careful about describing how deftly the movie handles its story and characters for maximum dramatic effects. Thanks to the fluid cinematography by Tommaso Fiorilli and the efficient editing by Dominique Marcombe, the movie constantly holds our attention as vividly capturing the dynamic interactions among its main characters during the trial scenes, and it further dials up the level of tension as Tony and Yasser come to face the growing ramifications of their personal conflict. While their respective lives are seriously affected by the trial, the Lebanese society is shaken up a lot by this trial due to the growing animosity between Palestinians and the members of the Christian Party, and that eventually brings out the old painful memories of the civil war during 1975-1990.

The main case members of the movie are flawless in their nuanced acting. While Kamel El Basha deservedly won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice International Film Festival in last year, Adel Karam gives an equally superlative performance, and Rita Hayek, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud, Christine Choueiri, and Julia Kassar are also excellent in their respective supporting roles.

“The Insult” is directed by Ziad Doueiri, who also wrote the screenplay with his co-writer Joelle Touma. His previous film “The Attack” (2012), which is about a Palestinian doctor agonizing over his wife’s unexpected act of terror, was incidentally one of the best films I saw during 2013, and the powerful human drama of “The Insult” confirms to me that Doueiri is indeed an interesting filmmaker to watch. This is a terrific work on the whole, so I wholeheartedly recommend it to you.

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