Words are powerful. At some point or another everyone has been in a situation where your words either hurt or applaud another one. The latter is commendable but the former often is an unacceptable human error. Director Ziad Doueiri brings a story that clearly exemplifies that ideology with ‘The Insult’.
Set in Beirut, the story is surrounded by a current climate that transcends language. Toni (Adel Karam), a Lebanese Christian, and Yasser (Kamel El Basha), a Palestinian refugee get tangled up in a civil court dispute in Beirut all because of a misunderstanding – one that carries a powerful insult. The words that both characters used to hurt one another might be simple platforms to develop a film but Doueiri excels at exposing what truly motivates each person: political unrest, religion, socially upheld beliefs and common sense.
‘The Insult’ takes place in Lebanon, Doueiri’s homeland, but it could have been placed anywhere in the world. The dialogue and characters around it depict everyday people that one may come across going to the supermarket. In the film, Yasser is a refugee who has accepted the circumstances around him and yet wants to do a great job as a handyman. On the other hand, Toni is faithful to the ideas of family, country and honest work. They are both clearly define from the start and eventually find some common ground. Joëlle Touma and Doueiri develop every nuance in the script to further expose the characters and what motivates the heavily charge racial insult presented in the film.
Those words transform from a minor incident to a media circus where every different opinion is represented – whether is right or wrong – to highlight our current society. Whether this is on purpose or not, it is difficult not to think how the media, and individuals play a role in the perception of things. There is one scene in ‘The Insult’ that truly considers that when Toni’s lawyer explains to the court who he is and what that should mean to everyone else. An exposition that helps Yasser decide how to end their conflict. A resolution that is private but so powerful to see and understand in the story.
The film itself carries some humor and well-executed scenes to balance the drama in the story. The court scenes can be something pulled from an American drama, with strong actors lawyering around in circles trying to outsmart each other. These do not outweigh what is at the heart of the tale but carries on the idea that words are powerful in every situation. A message worth considering lately.
‘The Insult’ is Lebanon’s 2017 Official Oscar® Entry in the Best Foreign Language Film and has received other commendable awards in the film festival circuit stateside. It might very well take home the golden statue, but even without that, it is a winning film to present a common theme that sparks discussion. And that is what great storytelling is all about.
The film is currently playing at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and The Quad in NYC