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.


King Abdul Aziz Foundation archives around 6,000 interviews with Saudis

Researching and recording oral histories can give a sense of cultural value. (Photo/Social media)
Updated 22 October 2018
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King Abdul Aziz Foundation archives around 6,000 interviews with Saudis

  • Darah assigned a number of specialized teams to carry out visits to the Kingdom’s different regions

RIYADH: The Oral History Center of the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah) has archived around 6,000 interviews with Saudi nationals past and present, said the Saudi Press Agency.
The Saudi Oral History Center was established in 1997. It was the third of its kind in the world, after the United States and Britain.
Darah hosts millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts and is considered the main source of Saudi national history inside the Kingdom, and abroad through the Oral History Center.
Darah assigned a number of specialized teams to carry out visits to the Kingdom’s different regions, speak to citizens about their histories, study sources of national history, and document the accounts of those who directly or indirectly contributed to the Kingdom’s history.
It conducted audio-visual interviews with many contemporaries and witnesses, and transcribed them, and investigated those stories based on scientific and technical protocols. It did this in cooperation with universities and international centers specializing in oral history, and with national and regional institutions interested in oral history and heritage.
Darah sees oral history — a precise account from eyewitnesses, or reported contemporary accounts — as an important resource. Many Western countries place great emphasis on oral histories and have established specialized centers to record and preserve such accounts.
The Foundation also considers oral histories a useful tool that can fill gaps left in recorded history, especially regarding personal histories of families.
Researching and recording oral histories can also provide the elderly with a sense of value and bring generations closer together.