“THE INSULT” — 3 stars — Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamond Bou Abboud; R (language and some violence images); Broadway
“The Insult” is about pride, stubbornness and righteous indignation. It’s about how little things can turn into big things, and big things can turn into dangerous things.
Ziad Doueiri’s film is built around two characters. Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) is a Christian auto mechanic living in Beirut with his wife Shirine (Rita Hayek), who is expecting their first child any day. Yasser Abdallah Salameh (Kamel El Basha) is the middle-aged Palestinian foreman of a construction company who lives in a nearby labor camp.
One day, Yasser and his crew stop by the Hanna’s complex to repair Tony’s water drain, but Tony, who isn’t fond of Palestinians for reasons that will be revealed later, refuses to cooperate. Yasser tries to fix the drain, Tony tears out his work and Yasser curses at Tony.
It could stop there, but it doesn’t. Tony demands an apology, and to keep the peace, Yasser’s boss drags him down to Tony’s garage to “turn the page.” But then Tony insults Yasser, the disagreement escalates to a punch in the stomach and things just continue to get worse. Yasser is sent to jail for assault, he and Tony wind up in court and Shirine even has complications when she gives birth.
Before long, lawyers are hired, and Yasser and Tony find themselves in the middle of a media frenzy as the poster children for the longstanding tensions between Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and the Christians and Jews in the community. To make things even more bizarre, Tony and Yasser’s lawyers (Camille Salameh and Diamond Bou Abboud) turn out to be father and daughter.
By the time the Lebanese president gets involved and people start rioting in the streets, “The Insult” begins to feel more like a metaphor than a grounded drama. It is a vivid illustration of how a little ill-timed stubborn pride and a tendency to cling to righteous indignation can lead to terrible results.
Given the nature of “The Insult’s” subject matter, it’s easy to watch wondering with whom Doueiri will ultimately side or sympathize. But to his credit, the director works hard to humanize both parties while condemning their poor behavior equally. Fortunately for the audience, both men remain candidates for redemption, showing flashes of kindness at opportune and unexpected times, and both Karam and El Basha are able to earn the combination of sympathy and aggravation their characters demand.
The whole situation is messy enough that different audiences may have very different takes on how Doueiri resolves his film, but “The Insult” does a nice job of touching on issues such as hate crimes and free speech without trying to push the audience too hard on one side or another.
“The Insult” is shown in Arabic with English subtitles. (It’s rating comes almost exclusively from profanity, which shows up in the subtitles.)
“The Insult” is rated R for language and some violent images; running time: 112 minutes.