Is the most wearying on-the-nose movie about clashes involving religion and race and politics ever as on-the-nose as such clashes in our real world? I admit to rolling my eyes a time or two as Ziad Doueiri’s Lebanese legal thriller The Insult puffed up a minor personal dispute between Beirut Christian Tony (Adel Karam) and Palestinian refugee Yasser (Kamel El Basha) into a court case that grips the nation. It also sends rioters into the street, finds the aggrieved parties dressed down in person by Lebanon’s president and seems to have riding on its outcome nothing less than the very possibility of peaceful coexistence. Yes, the seams sometimes show, as the film gets occasionally schematic, as Doueiri strains at times to make one on-the-street incident emblematic of every fault line in Beirut life.
Yes, the characters — especially Tony and Yasser — too often seem ruled by the dictates of the storyteller’s point-making rather than their own personal motivations. But damned if everyone on the news in real life isn’t like that also. And damned if the film isn’t a gripping entertainment, passionate and humane, fascinating in the particulars of its court proceedings and political maneuvering.
Doueiri, with his roving camera and incisive eye, excels at capturing neighborhood life, at tracking the shifting moods of a packed courtroom, at communicating several ideas in a single shot with multiple focal points — while still building to dramatic stings that would fit on a TV drama. The Insult is sometimes tough to swallow, but no more than actual geopolitics. And its plea, in its final reels, for greater understanding from all of us about each other’s suffering — well, that’s worth being on the nose about.
Ziad DoueiriAdel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou AbboudZiad Doueiri, Joelle ToumaCohen Media Group