Editor's Note: This is the first of two reviews of The Insult to be published on the blog. Barrie Pattison's review will be published shortly.
A finalist in the Oscar-nominated foreign films category in 2018, The Insult starts with Palestinian refugee Yasser fixing an external water leak on the balcony of an apartment belonging to Tony, a Maronite Christian. It sends Tony into a rage and his “insult” to the Palestinian becomes a metaphor for both public and private life in Lebanon. Tony is encouraged to apologize but refuses and the conflict escalates into two court cases stirred on by nationwide media coverage.
Director Ziad Doueiri carefully lays out the issues driving both men to their intransigent positions. It’s a political, ethnic and religious drama where a small issue (the insult) drives larger issues to the surface, particularly the PLO being driven out of Jordan in 1971 and the massacre of Maronite Christians in Damour in 1976 by Muslims and members of the PLO.
Born in Lebanon in 1963, Ziad Doueiri emigrated to the USA during the Lebanese Civil War. He worked in the camera department for Quentin Tarantino on Reservoir Dogs(1992), Pulp Fiction(1994) and Jackie Brown(1997). His previous feature films include West Beirut(1998), Lila Says(2004) and The Attack(2012). He also directed 12 of the 16 episodes of the excellent French political drama Baron Noir(Seasons 1 and 2) between 2016 and 2018.
Doueiri was condemned in 2012 when he filmed The Attack in Israel and cast an Israeli actress in the role of a Palestinian suicide bomber. In 2017 he was detained at Beirut’s international airport and questioned by a military tribunal about that film which is now banned in 22 Arab countries. He was released without charge. He has been accused of “normalization” with Israel. A planned screening of The Insult at a Ramallah film festival was cancelled.
“I grew up in a very left-wing pro-Palestinian family; the Christians and those who “collaborated with the Israelis” were considered the ultimate enemy. We threw rice in celebration when [Lebanese Forces militia leader] Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, and I used to say a good Christian is the dead Christian. As time went by, I started questioning these ideas and becoming friends with some of the people from the Christian camp. Most people who worked [on] West Beirut were Christians—for them it was normal, but for me it wasn’t. It took me a while to get [used] to sitting side-by-side with the Christians of East Beirut…
…I always believed that Christians in the civil war never suffered, and that only us Muslims, suffered. This was the myth I grew up with, but then I realized that Christians did suffer as much as we did. As an artist, it’s your moral duty to try to understand the other side, and that’s also where The Insult came from.”