Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language and some Violent Images
(Arabic with English subtitles)
Directed by: Ziad Doueiri
Written by: Ziad Doueiri & Joelle Touma
Starring: Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Rita Hayek, Camille Salameh & Diamand Bou Abboud
In our turbulent modern world, we’re constantly seeing sad stories of people being inhumane to each other for senseless reasons. Things like race, religion, country of origin, gender, and so on are frequently talking points in dividing folks, instead of bringing them together. I’ve never been to Lebanon and am not entirely familiar with that country’s history. That being said, THE INSULT (a Lebanese drama that is currently in the running for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards) has ideas and themes that are universal. Though the film isn’t perfect, THE INSULT is an emotional story that hammers in the notion that we need to stay connected as humans and not let differences divide us.
On a sweltering summer day, Palestinian refugee Yasser (Kamel El Basha) is working as a construction worker and notices a broken gutter from a high-level apartment leaking onto his workers. Being a nice guy and wanting to do what is best for both parties, Yasser fixes the gutter for free…only to have the Lebanese Christian resident Tony (Adel Karam) furiously smash apart the newly installed pipe. Peeved by the situation, Yasser simply calls the angry man a “fucking prick” and moves on with his day. However, Tony demands an apology and proves to be a stubborn person. Things between Yasser and Tony escalate, long-buried biases make their way to the forefront, insults become assaults, and their ensuing court case becomes a national focal point. All the while, hatred and kindness rages in the hearts of both men.
THE INSULT’s first third is fantastic storytelling in how it establishes the characters, escalates their conflict in a way that feels natural, and pretty much demands emotional responses from viewers. As the film moves forward, the characters of Yasser and Tony are revealed not to be simple cut-and-dry hero or villain. Instead, the film shows that they both lead complicated lives and their backgrounds play into how they interact with each other. It might be easy for certain viewers to simply view Tony as an unrepentant jerk, but you get a sense that he’s hiding deep feelings and insecurities of his own. Also, Yasser has questionable past dealings of his own that complicate matters.
It’s kind of obvious that THE INSULT’s main themes are empathy and coexistence. The film excels when its presenting these themes in small moments or subtle deeds, like two opposing characters sharing similar opinions or someone stopping to help his supposed enemy fix a broken down car (in arguably the film’s best scene, with minimal dialogue). These themes are frequently hammered upon as the film shifts into a mostly straightforward courtroom drama with a couple of subplots. The narrative even throws a few surprising curve balls at the viewer during these courtroom scenes.
My main complaints about THE INSULT come from a couple of key scenes, one of which seemed like a cop-out excuse for a certain character’s actions. Even though the film has lots of praise-worthy qualities, INSULT occasionally veers into corny melodramatic territory. One specific moment seems like it was a cheap way to develop a character (teased in briefly glimpsed nightmare sequences) and an easy explanation for most of the decisions from this character. I feel that the film might have been far more effective if it hadn’t gone down this simple and easy route. I sadly have to remain vague for fear of possibly spoiling something, but you’ll know the scene when/if you watch this film.
As a whole, THE INSULT is a good film that has shining moments of greatness. The movie is at its best during little scenes and exchanges between characters that feel natural, believable, and (most of all) human. The plot falters when it attempts to justify a character’s point-of-view in a way that felt telegraphed from a mile away and (for lack of a better word) too easy. However, this is still an emotional drama that will leave you walking out on a high note. If that sounds like your sort of film, you’ll probably enjoy THE INSULT.