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Sunday, 10 June 2018

Sydney Film Festival (12) - Barrie Pattison reviews THE INSULT (Ziad Doueiri, France/Lebanon, 2017)

Ziad Doueiri
Unsurprisingly Ziad Doueiri’s Qadiat raqm 23/The Insult has been the highlight of a so far of a lack-lustre Sydney Film Festival. I rated the director’s The Attack(2012) the most interesting film to reach us from the Arab world since the death of Youssef Chahine and all the more remarkable for coming from Lebanon’s limited industry. Chahine’s work was the product of Egypt’s long film-making history.

Doueiri’s new film has a not so promising start where the volatile meeting of the Christian Party, their Cedars flag fluttering in the display, is followed by an incident where maintenance foremanYasser Abdallah Salameh(Kamel El Basha) is splashed by water from Tony Hanna’s (Adel Karam) defective balcony drain and, when he is refused access to the man’s flat, repairs problem anyway from street level, only to see Hanna lean over and smash the new pipe. Salameh curses the bombastic owner from below (we agree with his assessment) only to start a feud which the works superintendent can’t settle - his good will gift flung back on his desk and the attempt at reconciliation ending in a punch up.

So far so so with a structure echoing escalating incident movies like Jaromil Jires’ 1969 Zert/The Jokeor particularly Farhadi’s Jodaeiye Nader az Simin/A Separationbut, against expectation, it is when the matter goes to court with angry Hanna wanting his opponent to suffer after complications that lead to the premature birth of his baby, complaining about the inadequacy of legal remedies - “Deport him by post!”  

Hanna’s embittered lawyer Wajdi Wehbe(Camille Salameh, impressive) sees the case as advancing the Christian cause, while young Nadine Wehbe(Diamand Bou Abboud) who takes on Salamehrates it as another attack on the rights of  the country’s displaced Palestinian immigrant population. The courts and the streets fill with both factions' supporters. Hanna’s garage is daubed with a star of David and his friends form a lynch mob and attack an innocent Pizza delivery guy. Both attorneys (who prove to be father and daughter) extend the matter into the litigants’ back stories and historical issues, bringing in A/V displays. Hanna angrily unplugs his lawyer’s projector when his showing so distresses his aging father. This is strong stuff.

Judge Colette Mansour(Julia Kassar) tries to keep a lid on the legal pyrotechnics warning “I don’t want to have to wear a bullet proof vest.” Even the country’s president calls the litigants into his office. Both men are suffering and realise the stupidity of the storm they are creating. They find their own way of resolving the matter - not the film’s most satisfying passage.

The Insult is far from perfect. It’s not as strong as The Attack and it doesn’t have the charm of Doueri’s West Beirut which anticipates the new Kodachrome and remains immensely popular on its home turf.  The women are implausibly glamorous and the film-makers are too obviously struggling to keep a balance of sympathy between the two leads.  However, these are slight defects against the film’s ability to lay out the country’s factional tensions and make them strong drama. It’s been compared to Sidney Lumet’s work and that’s not unjust.

We have to give this one high marks both for significance and film form. If you're looking for thoughtful entertainment this is your movie.

Doueiri sent in a rather winning video introduction.

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