Lebanon has produced several excellent films in recent years, and now it has finally earned an Oscar nomination. In The Insult, a minor personal conflict smolders, grows and then explodes into a major national incident. Palestinian Kamel El Basha, who once spent two years in an Israeli prison for his political activism, won the best actor award at the 2017 Venice Film Festival for his portrayal, in The Insult, of Yasser Abdallah Salameh, a Palestinian refugee who works as a foreman for a construction crew that is fixing code violations in a Christian neighborhood. When he tells car garage owner Tony Hanna that he needs to make repairs in his house, Tony slams the door in his face. Out on the street, Yasser and his crew fix Toni’s faulty drain pipe anyway, whereupon Toni smashes the new pipe. Yasser calls Tony a vulgar name, and to say that one thing leads to another is putting it mildly.
Yasser’s boss persuades Yasser to visit Tony at work and apologize to him for the insult. But when Yasser arrives at the garage, Tony is watching a video of the anti-Palestinian right-wing Christian politician Bachir Gemayel, who was assassinated (by a rival Christian) in 1982. Yasser is quietly outraged. Tony tells him, “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out.” Yasser punches Tony, breaking two of his ribs, for which he is arrested.
Soon, a flamboyant Christian lawyer, Wajdi Wehbe, intervenes to represent Tony, while Wehbe’s daughter, Nadine, volunteers to be Yasser’s lawyer. Both sides bring in examples from recent Lebanese history of atrocities committed against their side.
There are many interesting sidelights in The Insult. For example, the wives of both Yasser and Tony try to calm their spouses, but angry men don’t listen to reasonable women.
Director and screenwriter Ziad Doueiri, who graduated from the University of California-San Diego, is Muslim. His co-screenwriter, Joelle Touma, is Christian. In September 2017, when he landed in Beirut after the Venice Film Festival, Doueiri was detained, apparently because his 2012 film, West Beirut, was partly filmed in Israel. He was released without charges.