File Review: ‘The Insult’ — an outstanding courtroom drama

A scene from the film. (The Insult trailer)
Updated 02 March 2018
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File Review: ‘The Insult’ — an outstanding courtroom drama

After watching “The Insult,” directed by Ziad Doueiri and co-written with Joelle Touma, I cannot recall the last time I watched such an outstanding film. From its pace and writing to the acting and cinematography, this courtroom drama is flawless.
Following a minor squabble between right-wing Christian Phalangist Toni (Adel Karam) and Palestinian refugee Yasser (Kamel El-Basha) over a broken drainpipe, egos begin to puff up. Yasser, who was fixing the pipe, utters the first — minor — insult, and his employer forces him to apologize so relations with residents remain cordial.
When Toni senses that the apology is half-hearted, he throws a deplorable insult at Yasser, who quickly realizes this is about much more than a drainpipe. Aggravated by an incendiary speech against Palestinians playing on repeat in the background of Toni’s garage, Yasser punches him, breaking a couple of his ribs, and gets sued for damages.
The case is quickly thrown out of court by the judge, who realizes what the conflict is really about. They are both released, but Toni refuses to let it go. With a speed neither man could foresee, what began as a silly argument escalates into a national conflict.
Karam and El-Basha deliver fantastic visceral performances, as do actresses Rita Hayek and Christine Choueiri, who play their wives. Diamand Bou Habib, who portrays Yasser’s impassioned lawyer, is wonderful against Toni’s witty and pugnacious lawyer, played by the brilliant Camille Salameh, whose character uses the case as a second chance to win the “Christian cause” he had lost in court as a younger man. He provides much-needed comic relief, lightening the mood when the intensity is at its highest.
“The Insult” shows how prejudices created by the wounds of Lebanon’s civil war escalate seamlessly into a political conflict. It is a conflict only the protagonists can solve, one reluctant to make peace with his past, the other with a past and present he is still very much living.
The conflict ensnares not only supporters of the protagonists but also their wives, who try to bring out their humane side. A further twist reveals a generational conflict — the elder, who still lives the war vividly, and the younger, who wants to move on from a conflict he empathizes with but did not endure.
This film is mostly about internal conflict within characters manifesting externally, about making peace with oneself as well as with the country’s history, about finally removing the band aid and treating the damage of war so they can heal.
Toni’s complex character begins to show hints of humanity, and as his lawyer dredges up his past, we discover the personal tragedy that led to his animus toward Palestinians. But what about what Yasser has been through? He fled his country to Jordan, then had to settle in Lebanon in a refugee camp.
The film does not try to judge whose conflict is worst; no one can judge how a personal experience can affect someone. It is up to the characters themselves to come to terms with it. Ultimately, Yasser is older and more enlightened than Toni. Yasser has the wisdom we feel Toni begins to acquire by the end of the film.
As one of the many former warlords declares during a TV interview aimed at Toni, it is time for those wounds to heal. The protagonists’ humanity prevails in the end, illustrated by two powerfully touching scenes. Perhaps this can be used as a lesson for us now and in the future.
This is the first time a Lebanese film has been nominated for an Oscar, and it deserves all the success it is receiving internationally. Hopefully, it will pave the way for many more Lebanese films.

• Tala Ramadan is a Lebanese screenwriter and producer.


Ancient musical instruments get an airing in Athens

Updated 21 June 2018
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Ancient musical instruments get an airing in Athens

  • The phorminx, the kitharis, the krotala and the aulos — string and wind instruments reconstructed by musical group Lyravlos — echoed among marble statues in Athens’s National Archaeological Museum.
  • Music was an integral part of almost every aspect of ancient Greek society, from religious, to social to athletic events.

ATHENS: Hymns sung to the Greek gods thousands of years ago resonated from ancient musical instruments in Athens on Thursday, transporting a transfixed audience to antiquity.
The phorminx, the kitharis, the krotala and the aulos — string and wind instruments reconstructed by musical group Lyravlos — echoed among marble statues in Athens’s National Archaeological Museum as part of World Music Day celebrations.
A family of musicians, Lyravlos have recreated exact replicas of the ancient instruments from natural materials including animal shells, bones, hides and horns.
Music was an integral part of almost every aspect of ancient Greek society, from religious, to social to athletic events. Today only some 60 written scores of ancient Greek music have survived, said Lyravlos member Michael Stefos.
Stefos said they interpret them as best they can, relying on the accuracy of their recreated instruments.
“Joking aside, ancient CDs have never been found,” he said.
Their performance included a hymn to the god Apollo, pieces played at the musical festival of the ancient Pythian Games in Delphi and during wine-laden rituals to the god Dionysus.
Michael’s father Panayiotis Stefos, who heads the group, travels to museums at home and abroad studying ancient Greek antiquities and texts in order to recreate the instruments.
“Usually each instrument has a different sound. It is not something you can make on a computer, it will not be a carbon copy,” said Stefos.
The difference with modern day instruments?
“If someone holds it in their arms and starts playing, after a few minutes they don’t want to let it go, because it vibrates and pulsates with your body,” he said.
French tourist Helene Piaget, who watched the performance, said it was “inspiring.”
“One sees them on statues, on reliefs, and you can’t imagine what they might sound like,” she said.
World Music Day is an annual celebration that takes place on the summer solstice.