“salus populi suprema lex esto”
A rich, inundation of a culturally distant phenomenon that, for American viewers, might be difficult to appreciate given our proclivity towards abusing language for the (either/or) purpose of insulting or pandering to one another. At the same time, maybe not. The war over words is prevalent throughout North America, with academics in Toronto like Jordan Peterson becoming a villain for his refusal to cooperate with a law requiring citizens to use the correct pronouns in reference to transgender individuals. Or, the inordinate cost of security imposed by universities in order for groups to bring controversial speakers like Ben Shapiro or Milo Yiannopoulos to campus because opposition groups take violent measure to censor them. Words matter, and some people are simply not bred well enough to receive those sounds at odds with their own parroting echoes: not willing to “experience a milder stress” to develop a coping repertoire unto antifragility.
The Insult tackles an inexhaustible political conflict tied to regional history, legal due process, and the all too-human spirit of reactionary bias matched beautifully by the glimmering hope of reconciliation by small gestures of goodwill and legal soberness. For legal practitioners accustomed to jury trials, the process in the movie is frustrating: allowing for constant interruptions, minimal evidentiary loopholes, and, at times, unintelligible legal reasoning. However, at the same time, the film demonstrates the unguarded beauty of allowing judges to engage with the process without the requisite safety required to shelter juries from “inadmissible evidence.”
Newsweek offers a useful summary of film:
The Insult, set in modern-day Beirut, shows how a personal slight can escalate into a conflagration that threatens to consume all of Lebanon. But it also demonstrates how the unhealed psychological wounds from the country’s 15-year civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, still have the power to blow the most trivial of daily encounters out of all proportion.
The director’s own mother could not even be held at bay, as her legal training kept framing developments in the screenplay in favor of certain characters. Ziad Doueiri told The National how he fought with her all the time: “I’m not that pro-Palestinian and every time we were studying a law for my screenplay, she would take that law and manipulate it to favour the Palestinian guy.” Aside from the internal family dynamic, the film was anything but quite internationally. As a number of Arab countries vied to have it removed from various venues and film festivals and the BDS [the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement] mounting a huge campaign to stop the film from being presented to a Palestinian audience despite the actor (Kamel El Basha), who played the Palestinian character, winning Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival – the first time in history for a Palestinian. The situation was similar in Lebanon.
While audience might find the nature of the conflict, in particular it accumulation, farfetched, Doueiri reminds us that:
[W]ords in Lebanon and in the Middle East are very loaded. Things can get out of control, believe me. It is not pure fiction. People take things to heart. You say the wrong thing, you talk about religion, and they can go apeshit on you in the Middle East. When the film was shown, the Lebanese audience did not say, “Oh no, that’s not believable.” They saw it as something that they had been through. They totally identified with the dynamic.
And although each element requires scores of literature to address, viewers should be mindful that the Palestinian conflict is deeply connected to the identity and loyalty of individual citizens in Lebanon. In 2010, Foreign Affairs explained:
The structural marginalization and legal discrimination suffered by the nearly 300,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon continues to be a catalyst for conflict and violent extremism, meaning that Palestinian rights and Lebanese security are inextricably linked. In the words of a February 2009 International Crisis Group report, the situation in the camps is nothing less than a “time bomb.”
Only recently, a “Palestinian jihadist leader in Syria . . . released a message . . . directed at jihadists in Lebanon and other Palestinians in the Ain el Helwe refugee camp near the southern Lebanese city of Sidon.”
But the issue is not only impactful in the Middle East. Doueiri describes how the screening of the film invoked strong emotions in places like Spain “when the Catalonians wanted to secede;” and, in India, where “people commented that they have the same problems between the Muslims and the Hindus.”
Finally, one of the crucial features in The Insult is the incredible role played by the female protagonists who embody the perfect union of beauty, strength, and competence. The first (Rita Hayek) is the voice of reason, beckoning her husband to take to his senses as their child fights desperately to overcome a medical condition. The second (Diamand Bou Abboud), a vision of professional strength matched by family distinction, fighting desperately to overcome the emotional significance of the moment. Both women play brilliant though rarely seen proverbial roles that embody a complicated duality that more filmmakers should aim to achieve in their female characters. I will continue (e.g. Hostiles and On Body and Soul) to emphasize the roles that women play in films without apology even if it appears that my strings are being pulled by the sympathy of current en vogue movements.
IN CONCLUSION: The film was good, but not great. One, the director could have done a better job laying a foundation to the underlying spirit of the situation because the audience may be too readily lost if they sense the conflict is contrived for entertainment purposes. Two, the writing surrounding the apology that was finally offered felt superficial and the “enemies” who acknowledged one another could have seen another (small, but significant) moment between themselves to supplement the reconciliation. And three, the ending should have placed the conflict within the global context as an offer of instruction: “Go, and do likewise.”
OUR RATING: B-