Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri’s film The Insult, an Academy Award nominee for the Best Foreign Film in 2017 , is set in modern Lebanon, a country carrying wounds and grudges dating back to and beyond its Civil War (1975 -1990) . The story features two dedicated but high strung working men, each from a minority within this cauldron of striving national groups and political forces.
Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) is a proud garage owner, who insists on using high quality German parts in his work instead of cheap Chinese replacements. He is a follower of the Christian minority and its deceased leader Bachir Gemayel. Yasser Salameh (Kamal El Basha) , older than Tony, is a talented Palestinian construction foreman whose career is limited by his quasi refugee status.
The “insult” occurs when Tony’s home-made gutter drain drips from his balcony onto Yasser’s construction project. Yasser brusquely requests a repair. When it does not happen, his crew repairs it. Tony is affronted and destroys the new drain. The men exchange words and profanities occur.
Friends and family try to arrange a settlement but chocolates are not enough. A personal meeting ends in disaster when Tony shouts his wish that Ariel Sharon, a former Israeli leader, had wiped out the Palestinians during a past invasion.
This is too much for Yasser, who attacks Tony and breaks his ribs. Things escalate from there.
Events are now beyond the two protagonists. The courts, the media, even the national government become involved. The controversy ends on a number of levels: in the courts and on the streets but no resolution is complete.
Perhaps the most satisfying are a few personal events impacting the leads: one, when Tony helps Yasser start his car, another when Yasser provokes Tony and allows him, in turn, to break Yasser’s ribs.
Director Doueiri has assembled a fine crew of actors. In addition to the leads, both excellent, Camille Salameh, one of the lawyers is memorable; animated yet sly.
Doueriei is a secular Muslim, who trained in the United States, in part with Quentin Tarantino. He wrote the script for The Insult with his wife Joelle Touma, a Lebanese Christian, while they were getting a divorce. Not, one would think, the best setting for creating this fine collaboration.
The Insult is leaving Salem Cinema on April 12. Track it down in Portland or other areas. It is worth the effort.