A courtroom drama, a study of masculinity in crisis, and a treatise on the geopolitical state of modern Lebanon, Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult has tonnes of ambition, but lacks the focus and intensity needed to tie all these elements together. After Lebanese Christian Toni Hanna (Adel Karam) is, quite rightly, called a “fucking prick” by Palestinian construction worker Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha), his aggressive demands for a formal apology escalate to violence, court dates, and even rioting in the streets.
As the dispute between them becomes more public, it divides Lebanon’s population. Though this escalation is believably handled as it happens, it goes too far, swamping the original story and eventually descending into faint absurdity (not helped by an unimpressive score). When grounded in the courtroom, The Insult is at its best, excellent acting and a documentary style giving proceedings a fly-on-the wall feeling that drops you right into the spectator stands. Strong writing in these sequences keeps them punchy and funny, with every character getting a moment to shine.
It’s Yasser who commands all the sympathy. His verbal outburst was more than justified after Toni needlessly smashes a gutter that Yasser installed on his property, and a later assault on Toni by Yasser doesn’t turn these tables. Toni is an unrepentant anti-Palestinian bigot (and a neglectful husband), watching hard-right xenophobic speeches with the volume at full blast and eventually launching into the vile racist tirade that earns him two broken ribs. Later attempts to redress the balance are welcome, but heavy-handed.
In trying to do so much, The Insult suffers as a result of being spread too thin. As a character study and political piece, it’s too scattershot to make an impact, but its quality when in court is undeniable – it’s unpolished, but not a failure.
CAST: Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud
DIRECTOR: Ziad Doueiri
WRITERS: Ziad Doueiri, Joelle Touma
SYNOPSIS: In today’s Beirut, an insult blown out of proportion finds Toni, a Lebanese Christian, and Yasser, a Palestinian refugee, in court. From secret wounds to traumatic revelations, the media circus surrounding the case puts Lebanon through a social explosion, forcing Toni and Yasser to reconsider their lives and prejudices.