BEIRUT: Amidst the recent controversy and political whiplash regarding award-winning Lebanese director, Ziad Doueiri, over the past couple of days, his latest feature film The Insult premiered last night and garnered yet another well-deserved minute-long standing ovation.
The film is a slow burn, a story set in modern-day Beirut that slowly crescendos towards a climax as lives are changed, political views collide, and families are pitted against each other, while the country’s stability hangs in the balance.
Doueiri, though has spent the last twenty years away from his home country, weaves this narrative with co-writer Joelle Touma in the most meticulous yet minimalistic way, and the result is gold.
The screenplay flows at first like a summer breeze introducing characters that seem all too familiar, like a friend one hasn’t seen for some time, then slowly the breeze turns more and more violent until it ultimately evolves into a tornado.
The Insult has a solid narrative filled with fully developed characters that fulfill their arcs, and dialogue that never feels heavy handed but rather natural with a sense of realism, and an even higher sense of believability.
Doueiri states, “For me, I’m still among those who believe that the objective of any film is to convey a story, and not only to express a position or a political stance. It is the story of the characters within the film.”
Thematically is where the film shines the brightest, spreading a message of humanity and hope for a better future, without denying the hurts and scars that have been left by Lebanon’s years of war and turmoil.
Doueiri does not hold back and does not fear to project his truth, a truth inspired by a similar event he witnessed a few years ago, onto the silver screen.
Yet, nothing within the film’s diegesis, world of the film, feels out of place or even remotely exaggerated.
Doueiri and Touma use very accurate Middle Eastern mentalities and mannerisms, most specifically the ability to turn a small insult into a world war, as the film’s catalysts as they, much like the events within the film, become unstable to the point that the Lebanese President has to get involved.
“What is important to me is that people watch the film and if it produces discussions, then that’s good. As it is the case in my movies, some will like it. Others get offended, others may raise questions,” Doueiri said in regards to the film’s themes.
Even when the narrative avalanches and chaos ensues, the level of realism that Doueiri builds upon is astounding, and this is due to the strategical way in which he uses the camera.
Displaying some of the best cinematography to grace the Lebanese silver screens, Doueiri balances his narrative’s universality with an artistically driven camera.
The film’s cinematographer, TommasoFiorilli, who previously worked on Go Home, utilizes the camera in a way that renders him almost invisible, due to the camera’s smooth movements.
In The Insult’s second act, the narrative becomes a courtroom drama and Fiorilli, assisted by the film’s dynamic pace set by the edit, uses tracking shots that keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
Fiorilli ensures that all the characters within the court room get their fair share of screen time relying on reaction shots to deliver the necessary narrative beats.
The court room sequences are intentionally choreographed like a film war sequence, due to the high-profile nature of the case.
The film’s overall cinematic pace, much like its narrative, builds and gets more aggressive the closer it gets to its climax.
The edits become harsher, the camera movement faster, and even the score takes an interesting turn.
All these techniques are nothing without the support of the film’s amazing cast, from leading man to one scene wonders, who deliver such strong performances.
Adel Karam, known for his comedy, embodies his character, Toni Hanna, so naturally and the chemistry between him and the other actors is great to watch.
Kamel el Basha, recent winner of the Best Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival, carries such a powerful internalized performance making Yasser Salameh flesh and bone.
In a scene that sees Adel’s Toni and Kamel’s Yasser sitting across from a fictionalized Lebanese President, played by veteran Lebanese actor Tony Mehanna, it is clear how Doueiri took advantage of his seasoned actors and pushed great performances out of them, even down to the subtle looks and movements.
Both Camille Salameh, and DiamandBouAbboud, who play Toni and Yasser’s lawyers respectively, also bring forth concrete performances.
When contrasted with the soft spoken yet strong-willed Bou Abboud, Salameh’s characterization does come off as theatrical at times, while at others the role needed more pizzazz.
This, however, could be how the director envisioned the role of WajdehWehbeh, who does seem to be a rather big-headed lawyer, a la Denny Crane from David E. Kelley’s award winning television series Boston Legal.
Christine Choueiri’s character, much like Bou Abboud's character, is soft spoken, and though has little to say seems to be Yasser’s saving grace. The moments shared between her and Kamel el Basha work well.
The film’s MVP, however, is Rita Hayek, who plays Shirine, Toni’s pregnant wife.
Hayek delivers a powerhouse performance as her character goes through an emotional roller coaster while trying to keep her head on straight, her family safe, and stand by her husband Toni during the trial.
Her character delivers line after line of common sense solutions and statements making her the narrative’s moral compass.
To nitpick the film’s minor imperfections, like a ghost-like echo of characters appearing on the side of the frame almost like a lens flare, or the music is way too loud towards the end of the film, would be simply pointless due to the film’s overall worthy execution.
The Insult has already been well received by critics and will be making its debut at the Toronto Film Festival in the days to come.
It was officially chosen as Lebanon’s official candidate for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and a perfect ending for the Lebanese summer box office.
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