Friday, September 21, 2018

The Insult

You might consider a title like "The Insult" (2017)  to have a lot of potential to be either very comical or very violent.  It is actually more of a reconciliation movie with two opposing perspectives realizing the other is not totally wrong.  There must be something of merit in a movie nominated for best Oscar foreign movie.  This is one of the few individual movies from my viewpoint that is worth its own separate blog post.  The dialogue is in Arabic with subtitles.

In everyday life people insult one another fairly commonly.  One man even got elected President using many pointed and offensive insults.  Some comedians specialize in insults.  Most of us indulge in insults that we hope the target doesn't hear.  Few insults end up in court.

In Lebanon as generally in the Middle East there is sensitivity towards insults.  Religious and ethnic differences have often resulted in vendettas and wars.  Generally anyone has difficulty in seeing the other viewpoint especially as you are usually surrounded by people who reinforce your opinion.

Reconciliation is common in movies even including romances, but "The Insult" makes its points where some insults can result in violence or court action.  What really makes it stand out is the execution.  There are twists and over the length of the film you come to understand the background and inter-relations.  The two main characters are Christian and Palestinian.  They are both married and both end up hiring lawyers.  Outsiders might not realize that the Palestinian is not legally allowed to work in Lebanon, but has been hired and recognized as a dedicated worker.

During street work tempers flare and actually both men feel insulted.  The Christian wants an apology.  He is not interested in money.  The man asked to apologize is pressured by his boss and finally agrees to meet the other, but that meeting is a disaster resulting in the Palestinian actually breaking two ribs of the Christian.

There are actually two trials.  In the first after some questions to both men the judge dismisses the charge citing lack of information.  Another lawyer steps in to the Christian taking the view this needs to be rectified.  At about the same time the Palestinian is approached by another lawyer this one a woman who feels he has been unfairly treated.  Both lawyers are very impressive and a big twist is when we learn that they are father and daughter.

There are courtroom arguments and more drama outside.  The  Christian's wife gives birth prematurely with health concerns.  The two men, egged on a bit by their wives gradually see the other viewpoint.  Basically they each felt their group had suffered while the other had not and in the end they realized each group had suffered.  There is still tension, but the viewer appreciates that the younger generation and women are more open minded and forgiving.

The general pattern in films is not that rare and although the circumstances are a little unique we can all see connections to other movies and even personal experiences.  This movie stands out by the quality of presentation.

The director Ziad Doueri was born in Lebanon, where he studied in a French school.  He went to the United States during the Lebanese Civil War and after studying worked with Quentin Tarantino on many of his movies., including  'Jackie Brown'  (1997) and "Pulp Fiction " (1994).  By 9/11 he went back to his roots and has made a number of noted movies in the Middle East.  His film as a director/writer, "West Beirut"  (1998) won awards at Cannes and TIFF.  Other noted films have been "Lila Says" (2004) and "The Attack" (2012).  Currently he is working on a French tv series, "Baron Noir" (2016-18). 

He was concerned that he would not be able to get a crew and cast he could work with in Lebanon, but he felt (and I concur) he did really well.

Co-writer Joelle Touma also helped write "Lila Says" and "The Attack"  Recently she was a script doctor for a short, "Perhaps Today," (2017).

Five producers were listed and most have all worked together with Ziad. from a French base.   Rachid Bouchareb of France was a producer for "West Beirut" and "The Attack".  He also was director, writer and producer for "London River." (2009).  Jean Brehat also worked with the same three films.  Julie Gayet had produced "Bonsai"  2011) from Chile. along with another producer, Nadia Turincev.   Antoun Schnaoui is a Lebanese banker who is very involved with the Beirut International Film Festival.  He was also a producer for "Clouds of Sils Maria" (2014). 

The music was subtle, not particularly Middle Eastern by Eric Neveux, a French composer who had worked with Rachid Bouchareb.  He likes to work with independent producers.  He wrote music for some American projects including  a television series, "Inside Obama's White House" (2016).  He also composed for "The Attack."

Tommaso Fiorelli was the cinematographer  having earlier done "The Attack."  Is now working on "Baron Noir"  Beirut is making a comeback as a major international centre and we get a few shots of a modern skyline.

Dominique Marcombe did the editing and had previously edited "West Beirut" and "The Attack." Editing  can be tedious trying to get the right scene cut for emphasis without dragging.  The ending was switched with a scene of relief of a baby regaining health to give more emphasis to the verdict.

Adel Karam, played the main Christian protagonist and won an award as best actor in "The Insult"  He had a small role in "Where Do We Go Now," (2011) that won awards at Cannes and TIFF.  His next film was as the lead role in Egypt.

Kamel El Basha played the main Palestinian protagonist.  His background was with Palestinian theatre.including directing.   He was the writer and director for "Al Helm:  Martin Luther King Jr in Palestine," (2014).  He was a producer for "Defying My Disability," (2016).  He won an acting award for "The Insult" at the Venice Film Festival.

Camille Salameh played the lawyer for the Christian protagonist.  He made the strongest impression on me as a practical, hard hearted advocate.

Diamand Bou Abboud played the daughter lawyer for the Palestinian protagonist and ironically had been a student of Camille who played her father.   Their personal relationship probably helped the spark between them in drama.  She has won acting awards in Lebanon and Egypt.

Rita Hayek played the young wife of the Christian protagonist.  She had received performance training in both Lebanon and California.  She has been a hostess of "So You Think you Can Dance?" in Lebanon.  She also has been a marathoner.  Most of her acting is in television series.

The main actors were outstanding and had been nominated for awards as an ensemble.  Supporting actors added to the realism.  Two of the judges (one male, one female) in the two trials that were commanding.  The boss of the Palestinian, the wife of the Palestinian (who was supposed to Lebanese) were others that come to mind.

The movie was well accepted internationally and locally by the Christian sections of Beirut.  But it was boycotted by many Muslims in Beirut  Generally it made little progress in Muslim quarters.  In Jordan they insisted on cutting about six minutes that was critical of them.  The director refused.

I was not expecting the professionalism of the film.  It really hits at human psychology not just for the Middle East, but of human nature.  If you get the chance, set aside time to watch without distractions.

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