Two working class men; a right-wing Christian and a Palestinian refugee, are locked in a clash of wills that turns into an overblown feud exposing the country’s tinderbox of historical and sectarian divisions. No it’s not Trump’s America, although this story could be happening anywhere in the world and does eventually explode into a wider national crisis. This is Lebanese writer, director Ziad Doueiri’s vital and exhilarating new film The Insult.
A hot-headed Lebanese Christian auto mechanic Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) and a Palestinian Muslim construction foreman Yasser (Kamel El Basha) get into a heated argument over a balcony gutter drain that quickly escalates when neither side is willing to concede to the other. We immediately sense that there is more to this altercation than meets the eye.
Based on some of Mr. Doueiri’s own personal experiences when, as a young man, he impulsively insulted someone while on his balcony in a neighborhood where people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds were living. The experience changed him and had a profound effect on him. What he learned remains as relevant as ever.
It’s Tony’s angry reactionary impulse, and Yasser’s, the older of the two, intense emotional restraint that holds us glued to this powerhouse drama. Kamel El Basha won the best actor prize at the Venice Film Festival for his performance but they all deserve recognition. The utterly convincing performances by all the actors, including the two lawyers representing their clients, are invested with such intense emotion that one feels compelled by turns to sympathize with both parties. The realism is so palpable that one could be forgiven for thinking the film is some kind of docudrama. To his credit, Ziad Doueiri gives us a balanced analysis from all sides.
What really sends this perfect storm of family drama, political thriller and courtroom drama into the realm of classic cinematic heights is Doueiri’s confident direction, skillfully blending brilliant performances with a single-minded focus on a deeply felt storyline about two men both claiming to be victims and ruining their lives in order to be right, all stunningly infused with searing visual bravura that breathes authentic life into every scene.