Adel Karam, Camille Salameh, Charisse Gendron, Christine Choueiri, cinema, courtroom drama, Diamand Bou Abboud, film, Julia Kassar, Kamel El Basha, Middle Eastern cinema, Rita Hayek, Talal Jurdi, The Insult, world cinema, Ziad Doueiri
Is there any more manipulative film genre than the courtroom drama? As the counsels plead their clients’ cases—deploying reasoned arguments, subliminal appeals, ironic reversals, scathing sarcasm, and shock tactics—sympathies in the courtroom and in the theater shuttlecock to and fro with every swing of the rhetorical racket. The tension mounts excruciatingly until the catastrophe, the announcement of the judge’s verdict, when the outcome of the conflict becomes irreversible and is met with an outpouring of emotion.
The Insult (2017), directed by Ziad Doueiri, delivers a masterful example of the genre. The lawsuit is ignited by an absurd incident when a Lebanese Christian, Tony Hanna (Adel Karam), while watering plants on his balcony, sprays the foreman of a city work crew, the Palestinian Yasser Abdallah Salameh (Kamel El Basha), who is standing below. It is understood at once that the two men recognize each other as belonging on opposite sides of an entrenched conflict that will freight whatever personal confrontation ensues—that, indeed, the violence and loss each has endured as the result of the larger conflict has primed him to explode at the slightest provocation. What is more, they are straight men, the human type that loves a good fight and perceives an apology as a defeat.
These facts do not make them devoid of decency or affection. Even as they trade aggressions and the situation escalates from a smashed drainpipe to the eponymous insult to hate speech to broken ribs, each man continues to earn a living, Tony at his garage and Yasser at the work site, surrounded by fellow laborers who like and respect them. Each goes home to a loving wife, Tony to the pregnant Shirine (Rita Hayek) and the older Yasser to Manal (Christine Choueiri). While unimpeachably loyal, these women, along with Yasser’s boss, Talal (Talal Jurdi), point out to the antagonists that neither is without fault and plead with them to resolve their differences before they do more damage.
But Tony takes Yasser to court, and once the lawyers begin their arguments, the conflict rockets beyond the private sphere, inflaming feelings among the public. (Symbolizing the depth of civil strife, which is to some extent generational as well as cultural, the opposing counsels, played by Camille Salameh and Diamand Bou Abboud, are father and daughter.) Just like Tony and Yasser, everyone in Beirut has a wound ready to open. Tony’s family receives threats, Yasser is fired, an innocent moped rider is mistaken for a foe and harried into an accident, partisans brawl in the courtroom and the streets. As the trial proceeds, the counsels reveal more and more of the atrocities, the massacres, the internments, that Christians and Palestinians have inflicted on each other. How possibly can Judge Colette Mansour (Julia Kassar) arrive at a just verdict, when the case comes to represent the entirety of modern Lebanese history? How can she isolate “the insult”?