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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
The Insult is the story of the Lebanese civil war, stripped down to domestic dimensions. Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) is a householder, Yasser Salameh is a builder and one day, in a Beirut street, they have an argument about a drainpipe.
Insults are exchanged and a stalemate is reached until Yasser's boss, a practical man of moderate temperament, persuades him to apologise. But Tony, a Phalangist Christian, rejects the apology. His hot-tempered response contains such an inflammatory infusion of political venom that Yasser, a Palestinian refugee, punches him, breaking two of his ribs. Legal proceedings follow and things accelerate to the point where the case becomes a cause celebre – an intimate replay of the scenario which kept the Lebanese civil war on the boil for 15 years.
The movie’s fulcrum is in the ferocity of Tony and Yasser's feud followed by their gradual realisation that they have more in common with one another than with any one else in the courtroom. While the reasons for this take you back decades, their potency doesn't depend on knowledge of Lebanon's history or its politics. They reside in the same tribal grudges that have fuelled the wars in the Middle East for the past century.
What matters is the film's success in distilling them into the characters and personalities of these two men. Yasser comes across as the most rational. He's older with a reticence and a watchfulness which hint at a lifetime of sobering experiences. Tony, in contrast, has a hair-trigger temper which doesn't admit compromise. His instinct is to object first and consider the consequences much, much later – something that his loyal but exasperated wife knows only too well. But he, too, has his excuses, which are spelt out at the story's climax. You can see them coming, but any sense of predictability is dispelled by the film's ending which triumphantly unites the political and the personal by crystallising their connection in two great performances.