With a dramatic framework that can travel the globe and translate its emotions from country-to-country and language-to-language relatively easily, the courtroom thriller can be particularly effective in bringing a sense of universal urgency to the tale that it tells.
The challenge for any film-maker is to create a visually interesting and vital slice of cinema in the process, one that transcends cliché while involving us in the specifics of its story. Lebanese director/co-writer Ziad Doueiri has, for the most part, accomplished such a feat with this emotionally charged, intelligent saga.
It presents us with two men of contrasting backgrounds – one a Lebanese Christian, the other a Palestinian refugee – whose small-scale feud, partly rooted in protective instincts and stubborn pride, grows ever more difficult and complicated, engrossing the nation and inflaming ethnic tensions.
Lest such a description read like a downbeat, big-screen version of SBS World News, or perhaps the kind of draining experience that you wouldn’t wish to pay for, this reviewer can assure you that Doueiri and co-writer Joelle Touma have given this intriguing tale its own compelling trajectory, one that throws a spotlight on human weakness and frailty while never turning its back on optimism, nor closing its heart to hope (or humour).
Adel Karam (in the role of Toni) is a compulsive presence with an electric intensity, while Kamel El Basha (whose performance as Yasser received the Best Actor prize in competition at the Venice Film Festival of 2017) gives a richly thoughtful and sensitive portrayal of a man quietly battling to retain his dignity and status as a citizen, amidst a situation that seems determined to spiral out of his control.
The film does venture onto somewhat shaky ground when it attempts to depict a ripple effect flowing outward from the courtroom across the greater part of Lebanon, encompassing political consequences that leave the two antagonists looking almost like hapless pawns in their own story, but which tend to stretch credibility at times. There is also a strange feeling of anti-climax to the way that The Insult wraps itself up, leaving a slight sense of disappointment as the credits roll.
It is a rare occurrence that all five nominees for the Foreign Language Oscar in any given year receive commercial runs in Adelaide cinemas. This is the last of the most recent group to reach us, and while it is not quite the kind of revelatory experience that world cinema is so often capable of providing, nor is it what could be described as a reinvention of the courtroom drama as we know it, The Insult does provide a worthwhile journey on its own relatively straightforward terms.
REVIEWED BY ANTHONY VAWSER
The Insult is currently playing at PalaceNova Eastend only.
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