Yasser Salameh’s (Kamel El Basha) posture is tense, his hands fixated on his hips, and his eyes locked on the auto repair shop’s garage entrance. The shop’s radio blares right-wing rhetoric:
“So they don’t end up like the Palestinian refugee, wandering the world, ruining everything in his path!”
Jaw clenched, Yasser eyes his boss as he speaks to the headstrong, Christian Lebanese shop owner, Tony Hanna (Adel Karam). The shop owner had insisted Yasser apologize for an earlier incident. Days before, while Yasser tended to his tasks as a construction worker, a faulty drainpipe on Tony’s balcony spritzed liquid waste on Yasser and his co-workers. Tony rejected the construction workers’ request to fix the hazardous pipe, refusing their entry into his property. However, Yasser and his team proceeded to mend the illegal fixture. An enraged Tony struck the drainpipe, wrecking the construction workers’ repair and prompting Yasser to insult him. Despite his stubborn resistance, Yasser’s boss urged his employee to comply with Tony’s wishes and apologize. Now, Yasser stands apprehensively outside the shop as he waits for his boss’s cue to step inside and ask for forgiveness. However, with lingering resentment, Tony shouts to Yasser, a Palestinian refugee, that he wished Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would have wiped out all Palestinians. Yasser, unable to bear the denigration, punches Tony in the heat of rage and fractures two ribs.
Ziad Doueiri’s “The Insult” details the events following this hostile meeting. He traces the legal and social repercussions of what began as seemingly trivial, exemplifying the entangled web between personal sentiments and political affairs.
Dazed by pride, Tony takes his claims to court to battle for the apology he initially requested, suing Yasser for moral and physical damage. An inconclusive verdict, alongside both men’s zealous defense of their dignity, escalated events to unprecedented lengths. Tony meets Wajdi Wehbe (Camille Salameh), a notorious Christain Lebanese lawyer who embraces Tony’s right-wing values. Meanwhile, Yasser hires Nadine (Diamand Bou Abboud), pleading self-defense against an alleged hate crime. Drama in the courtroom ensues, uncovering that the two lawyers are more familiar with each other than indicated. Does an ulterior motive hide behind their legal commitments? Are Tony and Yasser also not being candid about their past?
A series of twists and revelations pervades the courtroom. The prosecutor and defense reopen old wounds buried under the passage of time. What seems as, at first glance, an unwarranted hatred or grudge stems from a thorny past of loss and violence. All arguments return to the Lebanese Civil War’s undying spirit, capturing Doueiri’s point that the war lives on and haunts Lebanon’s residents decades after its end.
Beyond the courtroom, the trial galvanizes civilians into action. Riots and protests infiltrate the country, deepening the fissures between Palestinian refugees and the Christian Lebanese remnant from the civil war years prior. The film further showcases the status of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon decades after the 1948 Nakba. This historical occurrence displaced and exiled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, coercing them to flee to neighboring countries like Lebanon. The Lebanese government, alongside national citizens, subsequently had to grapple with the sudden influx of Palestinians. As of 2023, there are nearly 5000,000 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, according to UNRWA.
“The Insult” offers a glimpse into the modern state of Palestinian refugees and Lebanese Christians’ precarious relationship, addressing real-life events throughout the film. Doueiri captures the status quo of Palestinians in Lebanon, who often fall victim to citizens’ spite and hostile remarks. However, more critically, he explores the targeted violence Lebanese Christians confronted during the Civil War. Media and popular culture do not frequently examine this narrative. Doueiri illuminates vital moments of the Lebanese Civil War, like the Damour massacre, aimed against Christian populations, carrying lingering memories of displacement and trauma.
Ziad Doueiri’s “The Insult,” much like his film “West Beirut” (1998), details the ways the Lebanese Civil War seeps into civilians’ affairs, even those minuscule and frivolous. In his Oscar-nominated movie, one man’s hasty comment initiates an ardent rally that reignites past flames and manifests the political into personal desires.
At the film’s beginning, Yasser’s boss articulates: “Some people find it difficult to apologize.” How far will one man go to ensure he gets his apology?
- “The Insult” is about a lot more than Yasser insulting Tony. What does the film reveal about people’s approach to political matters?
- What do you think the film reveals about toxic masculinity in the Arab world, specifically, and society in general?
- In an interview, the film director said: “In the Middle East… we are like a powder-keg, waiting for a small spark.” Discuss the quote and its significance to “The Insult.”
- How does the Lebanese Civil War play into the plot of “The Insult”? How does the film differ in its portrayal of the war from other movies you have seen about Lebanon and/or the civil war?
- (The following question applies to those who watched “West Beirut”) How are the two films similar, especially considering “The Insult” takes place nearly four decades following “West Beirut”?