The Insult, or Lawsuit 23 in Arabic, is a movie by Ziad Douieri that was released in September, 2017. The Insult (2017) is a contemporary story based a neighborhood in Beirut, Lebanon, about a Palestinian foreman who gets involved in an argument with a conservative Lebanese Christian. This insignificant street argument leads the two men into court battles, which flare up the suppressed hatred and discrimination between Lebanese and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Films like The Insult (2017) are similar in style to The Battle of Algiers. (Pontecorvo, 1996) Douieri relies in his movie on real, underlying social anxieties that are present and sometimes perpetuated in the Lebanese society. In an interview, Douieri mentioned that he based his movie on a real argument that he had with a Palestinian worker. (Hudson, 2017)
The movie starts with introducing the lifestyle of Toni (Adel Karam). Toni is a conservative Lebanese Christian, in his late 30s, married, and his wife is pregnant. He is an active member in the Lebanese Forces party (El Oowet El Lebneniyye). The Lebanese Forces was a wing of the Lebanese Phalanges party (El Kataeb) during the Lebanese civil war which flared in 1975. The Palestinian presence enraged the conservative Christian societies which sought to fight against this threat. Toni’s interactions in his dominantly “Christian” neighborhood are not violent. He is a big fan of Bashir El Gemayel, who was the leader of the Lebanese Phalanges, and was assassinated after his inauguration as a president of Lebanon. Toni is seen in multiple scenes carefully listening to speeches by El Gemayel, which emphasize the effect of this character and this ideology on the actions and beliefs of Toni. These speeches were feeding the Christians’ anger against the Palestinians during the civil war. After the idea of Toni’s affiliations is emphasized, Yasser (Kamal El Bacha), a Palestinian foreman working on a project in Toni’s neighborhood, is introduced. It is important to note that it is illegal for non-Lebanese foremen to take jobs, however, Yasser’s excellence and commitment to his job were emphasized several times as a reason to his illegal employment. Yasser offers to fix Toni’s balcony gutter, which was dripping on the workers, and the municipality was charging fines on illegal structures. Toni, who notices Yasser’s identity from his accent, refuses the help, however, Yasser still fixes the gutter. Toni furiously smashes it, which leads Yasser to yell at him the words “You are a prick.” This insult, which Toni relentlessly tries to get an apology for throughout the movie, unfolds in an uncontrollable way. On another occasion, Toni goes on to insult Yasser and the Palestinian identity, by saying that he “Wishes Sharon had wiped you all.” The events rapidly build up, evoking feelings of bigotry and dividedness in the already divided Lebanese society, as the case becomes public. Throughout the scenes of the trials, Toni’s lawyer (Camille Salameh) shows a slideshow of pictures from the beginning of the civil war, which showed the suffering of the Christians, to explain Toni’s behavior towards Yasser. After various attempts of concluding the issue, the movie ends with none of the two sides winning. The ending is a perfect mirror of the civil war, which broke out violently and lasted for decades, yet ended with two losing sides.
Douieri’s movie can be explained by Teshome H. Gabriel’s Theory of Third World Films. (2011) Gabriel explains the stylistic use of third world movies “as an ideological tool… and an ideological point of view instead of one dominant character.” (Gabriel, 2011, p. 190) Indeed, Douieri’s movie involved multiple characters employed to represent a case that is not explicitly discussed because of fears of public distress, yet it is very evident and recurrent. Gabriel also explains how flashbacks constitute an important element in third world cinemas. (Gabriel, 2011, p. 190) The emphasis on the past in Douieri’s movie is evident in multiple scenes. Toni’s recurrent viewing of Bashir El Gemayel’s old speeches, the slideshow that is set up in the trial, and Toni’s final trip back to his village after almost 30 years of not visiting. Third world films are characterized by a need to reform and defy certain ideologies. There is no presence of one hero, rather there is a presence of multiple main characters who suffer from and try to solve a social issue. These movies tend to produce new ways of living by referring to the faults in the society and the need for correcting them. (Gabriel, 2011, p. 194) According to Mirzoeff, on the movie The Battle of Algiers (1996), it presented a new discourse on colonialism that was not previously permitted. (Mirzoeff, 2011, p. 249) Likewise applies for Douieri’s movie who presented insights that would usually be undiscussed, in order to prevent public scrutiny against it.Toni’s demand for an apology from Yasser has multiple historical and embedded implications. Toni’s association and experience with the war gave him a sense of hostility towards anyone who carries a similar identity of the reason for his suffering, basically Palestinians. This hostility, which can now be seen in sectarian relationships among the Lebanese society, can be related to the same hostility that the Algerians felt towards the French colonizers. The Lebanese Christians felt hostile towards the Palestinian refugees who they felt were living off the Lebanese. The spark of the hostility between Toni and Yasser, and the entire conflict that arose between them, is an exact replica of the events of the civil war, and it even had the same ending. Also, multiple scenes in the movie show how people were outraged by what happened, and were divided between the two men. This outrage was carried out to the street and involved burning tires and attacking both men, in a similar manner of how the civil war had evolved to encompass many parties in Lebanon. Douieri’s attempt at portraying the underlying feelings, unexpressed hatred, intolerance, and tensions between Lebanese people and the Palestinian refugees is a perfect real-life image among Lebanese, even in between themselves, Palestinians, and Syrians. Another important part of the movie, is when Toni’s pregnant wife gives preterm birth to their baby girl. Toni goes to his garage to release his anger, and faints. His wife follows, to find him there. As she tries to help him, she faints as well, and both are seen later in a hospital. Douieri uses the example of the complications of the birth of Toni’s child as a result of the hatred that Toni has against Yasser and all Palestinians. This relationship is also derived from the civil war. It can be argued that Douieri was signaling to the difficulty of life when it is surrounded by hatred. Later in the movie, Toni’s daughter gets better, as he goes back to his village and learns to let go of his grudges. The relationships between life vs. death and forgiveness vs. grudges are what Douieri’s intention behind the movie is. It would mean death for all Lebanese to continue to hold on to their grudges, and it would mean life if we learned to forgive and embrace the future.
Ziad Douieri offers in The Insult (2017) a representation of the current situation in Lebanon. The discrimination and intolerance that mark the attitude of the Lebanese people, especially now towards Syrians, is perfectly portrayed in the extremities that this movie offers. The historical aspect, as Gabriel argues, is the ground for the entire film. (Gabriel, 2011, p.190) The aspect of history, and the recurrent references to history, play a pivotal role in explaining the hostility that the two characters have for each other. The insights that the movie tackles are present in every day interactions, and are often gone unnoticed, or intentionally unnoticed to avoid stirring trouble in an already troubled society. However, tackling these societal matters constantly would be the best way to solve them. Lebanese director Nadine Labaki also dealt with these types of insights in her movie Halaa’ La Wen (2011). Directors like Nadine Labaki and Ziad Douieri are now paving the way for other courageous directors to take on their steps and adopt their style, in an attempt to eliminate discrimination and intolerance.