MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
On DVD and Blu-Ray, Video on Demand, Streaming Services.
Rated R. In Arabic with subtitles.
Directed by Ziad Doueiri. Starring Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha.
Although it is sometimes hard to admit, all of us are born into the world with predispositions of prejudice. While we would like to believe that somehow we have lived charmed lives free of division, even that lofty worldview arrives courtesy of a combination of religious and secular education, accompanied by a healthy heaping of first world privilege.
Consider for a moment that you are living in Beirut, Lebanon, a town that is home to religious and ethnic animosities that go back decades (if not centuries). While attempting to live a normal life with a loving family, there is always the possibility that a singular misstep with a particular person might fan the flames of past injustices, leading to a rash act of violence. (Yes, it happens in America, too.)
One day while watering plants on his balcony, Tony Hanna (Karam) happens to splash water on the street below where a construction crew is making the rounds inspecting housing violations. The splashing water alerts the foreman, Yasser Salameh (El Basha), to notice that Hanna has a drainpipe that is not up to code. Yasser offers to fix the pipe and is rebuffed by Tony. Yasser fixes the pipe, anyway; Tony breaks the repaired pipe.
And then Yasser insults Tony with a brief obscenity. Tony demands an apology; Yassar refuses to show remorse. The two find themselves in a courtroom.
Days pass, and finally Yassar summons up the nerve to offer an apology, visiting Tony at the auto repair garage where he works. Tony fires off an even-more hurtful insult to Yasser, after which Yasser delivers a punch to Tony’s gut, which sets the stage for a second trial, this time covered by the local media.
It would have been enough if this had been a simple domestic disturbance. But Tony is a right-wing Christian who feels repression in a primarily Muslim country. Yassar is Muslim, but he is a Palestinian immigrant who left his homeland due to oppression from Israel.
What is remarkable about The Insult (nominated for a 2018 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film) is how compassionate the script is to these two adversarial men. As the trial plays out (the film resembles a feature-length episode of Law and Order), we slowly begin to learn the chronicle of suffering that set the stage for this encounter. Only in the film’s last 30 minutes does the movie stumble a bit, using archival newsreel footage to teach us a history lesson and then rushing to a quick, potentially hopeful ending.
The acting by everyone is top-rate and it is a well-shot, beautifully composed film by former cinematographer Ziad Doueiri. I was surprised by how much the film has stayed with me, days after viewing. Jesus once said something about taking logs out of our own eyes before we start pulling splinters out of everyone else’s. I’m still working on my log; The Insult encourages me to keep pulling.
Four halos: A thoughtful reflection about everyday animosities and the collective pain that lies beneath.
Two pitchforks: Unsurprisingly, some profane insults; brief acts of violence.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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