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No one can win “The Insult”


Beirut resident Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) prepares to enter the courthouse with his wife Shirine (Rita Hayek) for the case against Palestinian construction worker, Yasser Abdallah Salameh (Kamel El Basha). (Courtesy of Cohen Media Group)


Blu-ray, DVD; 2017; R for profanity and some violent images; streaming via Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube

Best extra: Only one, an interview with co-writer/director Ziad Doueiri

WE FIRST see Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) at a political rally in Beirut, Lebanon, where he is an enthusiastic supporter of the ruling conservative Christian government. The next time we see him, he’s watering plants on the balcony of his apartment. When some of the water drips from his drainpipe onto a Palestinian construction worker, Yasser Abdallah Salameh (Kamel El Basha), an argument ensues.

The outcome provides the basis for “The Insult,” Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri’s often contrived, but very watchable, fourth feature. Tony and Yasser’s argument eventually gets physical, and the two men end up in court, with Yasser accused of assault and facing a long prison term. What is revealed during the trial is the tragic history of the Lebanese and Palestinians, the prejudices and injustices that still exist, and the need for people to acknowledge and recognize each other’s humanity and mutual suffering.

Palestinian construction worker, Yasser Abdallah Salameh (Kamel El Basha)

This Cohen Media Group Blu-ray looks pretty good, with plenty of clarity and detail, depth, saturated color and realistic skin tones. The DTS-HD audio track is also fine; ambient noises and sound effects are well-balanced, and dialogue, in Arabic with English subtitles, is clear.

The only extra provided is a recent “Conversation from the Quad” with Doueiri and Richard Peña, who teaches film at Columbia University in New York City.

Doueiri, who is Lebanese but has lived in the U.S. and France and speaks fluent English, says that the spark for the screenplay occurred when he was living in Beirut. He had the exact experience as Tony, watering his plants, etc., but in Doueiri’s case, he quickly apologized for insulting the workman. “And that was the end of it,” says Doueiri, who then wondered, “What if it did not get resolved?”

Tony Hanna (Adel Karam)
The dispute turns into violence in the streets of Beirut, Lebanon.
Yasser Abdallah Salameh (Kamel El Basha) accused of assault and facing a long prison term.

The screenplay looks at what might have happened, with events escalating and snowballing out of control. Since 1948, notes Doueiri, Palestinians have only been allowed to work menial jobs in Lebanon, and many live in slum-like refugee camps. “The Insult” was a way to show the dangers of the immigrant situation in Beirut. Doueiri brought El Basha, who is Palestinian and lives in Jerusalem, to Beirut to make the film. He was heartbroken to see his fellow countrymen’s situation there. Says Doueiri, “I was adamant about making the film as understandable as possible for a foreign audience.”

Having father and daughter characters play lawyers for prosecutor and defense, adds the director, was a way to show that in Lebanon, the younger population is more open-minded, which causes conflicts between generations. That situation is also reflected during the input throughout the film from the younger wives of both main characters.

Doueiri always wanted to make a courtroom drama, he says, and was inspired by such films as “The Verdict”; “Judgment at Nuremberg”; and “12 Angry Men.” His film, however, is first and foremost “about a city … and about recognizing the ‘other.’”

— Peggy Earle




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