“The Insult” – Lebanon (Best Foreign FIlm Oscar Nominee)

“The Insult”
Directed by Ziad Doueiri

MV5BZjRkNDQ2MWItOTY0OS00MDEwLWFiZmQtNTExZDgxZmJmZDFmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDc2NTEzMw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_So, I’m not alone in believing that the world is going to crap, yes? For the past few weeks it’s become more and more apparent that the prevailing feeling surrounding us is one of a glass that is four/fifths empty. And for that reason, even before the Florida shooting, I’ve had a feeling of overwhelming dread hanging just beneath my controlled exterior. Of course, several of the films I’ve seen recently have added to that…especially the Live Action and Documentary Shorts.

But “The Insult” pushed me completely over the edge. I quietly sobbed through the last third of the film, and, writing this three weeks after, I am in awe of the effect it had on me. This is simple, emotional, affecting storytelling at its cinematic best. Basically a film about how two people of different backgrounds talk to each other, “The Insult” does away with a the protagonist/antagonist setup. Rather, director Doueiri makes his two main characters both protagonist and antagonist at the same time. Given the film, at its core, is a courtroom drama, that could be disastrous, but here, it is just the opposite. It is a magnetic film about ego, personal history and institutionalized hatred of the “other”.

The script is quiet…and perfect. The found the ending ever so slightly underwhelming, although I’m willing to admit that what is underwhelming in our culture may be utterly overwhelming in a film’s country of origin. But this film works on so many emotional levels, it almost doesn’t matter how it ends. The journey is truly enough. And much of that success comes down to the two actors locked in this battle of words. Adel Karam, known mostly for his comic roles(!) on Lebanese film & television, has a searing intensity about him that makes his quest both believable and important. And, when in his beliefs are in any doubt, he manages to convey a sense of humility just beneath the surface, without giving in in any away. But the TRUE master performance here is from veteran Palestinian stage actor and director, Kamel El Basha. Keeping you constantly on your toes as you try and get a handle on what kind of person he is…his organizing emotional structure, it’s such a grounded performance, you are constantly surprised by how rational and human his many sides seem. That this his first major film role is, frankly, mind-blowing.

And then there’s Eric Neveux’s score (a score I loved so much that I wrote to the composer to attain a copy). Perhaps because I have become such a Johann Johannsson fan (RIP), I find myself leaning in to film music that utilizes his ability to mix a strong sense of subtlety with a healthy dose of actual melody. This score has many of the same elements found in JJ’s compositions for “Sicario” and more than a little bit of a nod to Sakamoto’s brilliant “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” score. But beyond comparisons, joy of Neveux’s music is that he writes against type when it comes to the emotional choices, meaning the more intense the film becomes, the more subtle the music is. I’m a sucker for that sort of juxtaposition, and kudos to the director for not being afraid to let the script and acting do the heavy lifting. Best of all, it is exactly this subtlety which allows for a film’s themes to bring you back to your emotional memory of the film, which, let’s face it, is what makes us remember great films.

Of the five nominees in the foreign language category, I would have voted for this film had I a vote. And it is, with either my therapist or critic hat firmly on my head, essential viewing as it is a film that will make you feel, and make you wish to understand how to be more empathetic. Can’t ask for much more than that in these times.

Written on 3/11/2018

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