The Insult

2017 Oscar nominee - Best Foreign Language Film

Two men in Beirut have an argument about a pipe that drips water from an apartment terrace onto the street below. Harsh words are exchanged. An apology is demanded. A punch is thrown. And then, as the matter winds its way through two different courts, memories of past atrocities are dredged up, and Lebanon’s civil war, which officially ended in 1990, seems on the verge of erupting all over again.

Tony Hanna (Adel Karam), a garage owner, and Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha), the foreman of a construction crew, hate each other before they ever meet. Tony is a follower of Lebanon’s Christian party, which is less a matter of religious devotion than of ideological zeal.

Poster for the complex courtroom drama The InsultYasser is Palestinian. Though he has lived in Beirut for decades, his legal status is ambiguous, and the neighbourhood where he lives is classified as a refugee camp. In spite of their mutual hostility, he and Tony have a lot in common. They are both hard workers and good husbands, and each is a victim of his own stubbornness as well as of the other’s provocations.

Neither man really intends for things to escalate the way they do, nor can either figure out how to back down without a loss of face. And so the movie’s focus shifts from the private world of work and family into the court system and the news media.

At the film’s core is the idea that personal matters are neither separate from political concerns nor identical to them. At several moments, you expect a sentimental, uplifting solution, the hug or handshake that assures everyone that bygones will be bygones, that deep down we’re all the same. But that would be a lie. The more complicated truth is that everyone who holds a grudge does so for a reason, and fears that letting go of it would mean the loss of something precious.

That may not seem like a very hopeful or happy idea. A hopeful, happy movie about the Middle East may be too much to ask for right now. But The Insult is too energetic to be depressing and there is something undeniably exhilarating about the film’s honest assessment of the never-ending conflict between decency and cruelty that rages in every nation, neighbourhood and heart.

– A.O. Scott, The New York Times

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