The Insult

The Insult (Zaid Doueiri, 2017)

Adel Karam, Kamel el Basha

After an emotional exchange between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee escalates, the men end up in a court case that gets national attention.

This is a courtroom drama, in that half of the action is staged in a courtroom - shot with bare competence - 'staged' is the appropriate word. But the emphasis is not on what takes place there, but on the violent past in the Middle East. The Christian and the Palestinian have memories of similar events (wars, massacres) but from opposite sides of the conflicts. There are two insults (and a couple of acts of personal violence). All that is needed to resolve the situation is an apology or two.

A viewer lacking the experience (or even knowledge in my case) of the relevant recent past simply desires the antagonists to do the obvious thing, and say 'sorry' - it's just a word. SPOILERS. Just before the end the Palestinian does say the magic word - but no-one hears him except the Lebanese man, and it doesn't make any difference ... or not much. In the last scene, the Palestinian can't start his car, tho the Christian - who is a mechanic - drives away. However, he returns and rejoins the connexions in the engine he had presumably disconnected.

They are both decent men who would, in the absence of history, get along well enough, but they are constrained by the burden of the past.

... The Insult is not always subtle. As the trial progresses, it becomes more programmatic, confronting the viewer and the characters with reminders of past atrocities that sometimes feel heavy-handed. But the film derives some of its vital energy from the way that it often seems to argue with itself. The grace and precision of the performances — not only Mr Karam’s and Mr El Basha’s, but also those of the actors playing the colleagues, advocates, surprise witnesses and bureaucrats who populate an increasingly crowded story — push against the director’s fondness for grand statements and obvious ironies.

This internal tension brings home the complicated point Mr Doueiri is determined to make, which is that personal matters are neither separate from political concerns nor identical with 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. A.O. Scott, New York Times.

See also: the Wikipedia page for The Insult.

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 3 October, 2018 | Now: 3 October, 2018