Film Review: ‘The Insult’ Accurately Portrays Politics Getting Personal

This Lebanese film shows us how hard it can be to say sorry, especially when one’s national identity is at stake.

This film, directed by Ziad Doueiri, and Lebanon’s entry for best foreign language film at the Oscars, is about a Christian Lebanese man, Tony, who sues a Palestinian man, Yasser. Their conflict is simple on the surface, but it represents so much more.

Tony, played by Adel Karam, has an illegal drain pipe installed on his terrace. Yasser, played by Kamel El Basha, is a construction site manager. He offers to add a new pipe which would be legal, is denied, but does it anyway. Tony destroys Yasser’s new pipe, to which Yasser responds by calling him a prick. With each decision, the situation escalates, until a nationally covered lawsuit leads to turmoil across Beirut. But this is obviously not about drain pipes — it’s about a struggle between native Lebanese people and Palestinian refugees.

Tony sees his native Lebanon taken over by refugees that have no place there. They’re taking jobs, using up resources, and threatening the national culture. Sound familiar?

Yasser, however, has no homeland he can claim, so he and his wife hope to make a life in Beirut. Tony, his wife, and their unborn daughter hope to do the same. Doueiri easily balances sympathy for both characters, making it impossible to pick a side.

The court case reveals each man’s dark past and forces them to come to terms with it. The deep mistrust and anger between their two ethnic groups makes it hard for Tony and Yasser to reconcile. They happen to be two of the most stubborn men in all of Beirut. Both Karam and El Basha give stunningly genuine performances, filled with tension and warmth.

The subject matter is weighty, but thankfully not depressing. In fact, this film may spark some hope in humanity, if you happen to have none. And with such a highly political film, it’s hard not to think of these United States in place of Lebanon while watching.

Tony is constantly being asked to “turn the page” by his wife, played by the talented Rita Hayek, who is one of many voices of reason in Tony’s life. But swallowing one’s pride is difficult when so much is at stake.

The Insult is in theaters January 12.

Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group

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