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Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Insult

One of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the last Oscars, The Insult, from Lebanon, is a crackling good picture that shows how one little event can snowball into something that requires the president of the country to intervene. The nuances of some of the film will be clearer to those familiar with the politics of Lebanon, but this American got the point.

Directed by Ziad Doueiri, The Insult begins innocently when Tony (Adel Karam), a Christian, drips water on a construction foreman (Kamel El Basha) from his balcony. El Basha points out that Karam's gutter is illegally constructed, and offers to fix it for him. Karam, who has a hair trigger, smashes the gutter. El Basha calls him a fucking prick. So it has begun.

Karam wants an apology. El Basha's boss finally persuades him to apologize, but Karam lashes out. El Basha is Palestinian, and Karam says, "I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out." Understandably angry, El Basha punches him, breaking two ribs. The case will go to court.

What started over a gutter ends up in the news. Both Christians and Palestinians are outsiders in Lebanon (Palestinians are not allowed to work there) and a hot-shot lawyer takes Karam's case pro bono. El Basha's lawyer is a young woman who turns out to be the other lawyer's daughter. Each man has suffered--El Basha was involved in something called Black September, when many Palestinians were killed. Karam was a child during the attack on his home town of Damour, in which many were massacred, and it was thought Palestinians were part of the attacking force.

The film illustrates how grudges are born and then not passed on to the younger generation. Karam's younger wife (Rita Hayek) can't believe his stubbornness. I think an American equivalent is how Cuban-Americans from a previous generation, who knew the evils of Castro, became fervent anti-communists and Republicans, while the younger generation, who grew up in America, tend to be more progressive and have no knowledge of Castro.

The last half of the film is a  courtroom drama that is exciting. I don't know the ins and outs of Lebanese law, but it's close to American (though the lawyers make speeches during examination of the witnesses, which wouldn't be allowed here).

I've seen four of the five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards and The Insult is by far the best. I have yet to see Loveless, from Russia.

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