Movie Review: The Insult (L’insulte)

Lebanon has no shortage of problems. Once hailed as a synthesis of East and West (its capital, Beirut, was known as the “Paris of the Middle East”), the country has been bogged down for decades in internal ethnic strife that has spilled into politics, a protracted civil war and multiple wars with Israel, and high public debt. It also has a refugee problem, first with the Palestinians, who, it’s estimated, make up ten percent of the country’s population, and more recently with the Syrians who have fled their country due to the civil war there. Not surprisingly but perhaps sadly, there is little sympathy for them coming from the Christian Lebanese community who see their Muslim neighbours as the cause of their country’s economic and political problems.

Writer-director Ziad Doueiri’s (THE ATTACK) film, Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, THE INSULT, is a fictional tale of two men, one, a Christian Lebanese, and the other, a Palestinian refugee, who cross paths one morning in a suburb of Beirut. Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) lives with his pregnant wife, Shirine (Rita Hayek), in a modest apartment just down the street from his car repair business. Their neighbourhood is undergoing redevelopment and Shirine would like nothing more than to move someplace quieter. Tony, though, will have nothing of it. His garage is there and this is where they will stay. Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha) is a foreman working on one of the construction projects on the Hannas’ street. After Yasser instructs his workers to fix Tony’s leaking drain pipe without the man’s permission, the two men get into an argument where Tony insults Yasser and Yasser punches Tony, breaking two of his ribs. The matter only escalates when Tony’s condition worsens, sending both him and Shirine to the hospital a few days later. Now Tony wants justice, not just for him and his family but for all the Christians in Lebanon who are angry over what they believe the Muslim Palestinians have done to their country.

Sometimes playing like a mediocre episode of TV’s LAW AND ORDER but with a few good surprises along the way, THE INSULT is an interesting portrait of identity and ethnic relations in this troubled and complicated corner of the world. To us outsiders, we may struggle to see the difference between these two groups but to them it’s all too apparent.

We don’t get to see that many films from Lebanon in Hong Kong (in fact, I can’t even remember the last time we had one) so, for that reason alone, THE INSULT is worth checking out.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, June 7th at 8:30 am HK time!

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