“We live in the Middle East. The word ‘offensive’ was born here,” says a character in the film – if one sentence could sum up “The Insult” in its entirety that would be it.
Ziad Doueiri, director of the critically acclaimed award-winner “West Beirut” (1998) delivers another hard-hitting cultural-commentary with his 2017 film “The Insult”, an electrifying court-room drama with stunning performances from lead characters. The ludicrous extent to which a seemingly petty spat escalates, from a curse to an insult to a courtroom to national outcry, perfectly depicts the fragility of the Middle East, particularly the social unrest in Lebanon.
Sunnis, Shias, Christians, Palestinians, Druze… the endless list of different ethnic and religious groups in Lebanon, each with its own factions and divisions, creates a fragile social and political situation for the country with civil war a constant – and realistic – fear.
‘The Insult’ portrays these deep-rooted divides through the touching story of Tony Hanna and Yasser Salameh. Christian Lebanese Hanna is a moody mechanic with a traumatic past and his first child on the way, and mild-mannered, stoic Palestinian Salameh is a construction worker who befalls the misfortune of crossing paths with him.
What starts off as a small misunderstanding over an illegal pipe on Hanna’s balcony gradually escalates into a national controversy as old memories of the war are dredged up and past acts of atrocity are brought to light in the ensuing legal drama. The film no longer becomes a question of who insulted whom, but opens the wider debate of prejudice and racial tension in Lebanon.
However, the film’s riveting storyline, particularly the court-case, does not feel entirely realistic; many viewers assent to the fact that a Palestinian in Lebanon would not have been as fairly represented in court as Salameh was, and in a case of a Lebanese citizen prosecuting, the court case would have ended much earlier on in opposition of the Palestinian.
Peppered with clichés that would resonate well with Arab audiences, the film also boldly highlights the negative impacts of pride, and how racial identity is often a catalyst for conflict. “The Insult” really does hit home with its exploration of the division within the Middle East; it explicitly shows how a vast history of political issues filters through the societal infrastructure and greatly affects the lives of individuals who have far more in common than they are made to believe.
A vivid portrayal of the true social dynamics of 21st century Lebanon as well as the issue of the Palestinian diaspora across the Middle East, “The Insult” leaves audiences on a strong emotional high and is a must-see for all.