“The Insult” Is Nominated For Best Foreign Film Oscar, First Time Ever For A Lebanese Movie

Ziad Doueiry’s latest movie, “The Insult,” was just announced as one of the five nominees in the Best Foreign Film category for the 2018 Oscars. This marks the first time ever that a Lebanese movie has scored such a nomination – the closest we’d gotten before was when Nadine Labaki’s “Where Do We Go Now” won the big prize at the Toronto Film Festival, and scored a nomination for best movie at the Critics Choice Award, losing to “A Separation.”

Released in September in Lebanon, “The Insult” quickly became one of the year’s biggest hits at the Lebanese box office, and a true testament to what Lebanese cinema can do when given proper material. In a time when we are inundated with one mind-numbing stupidity after the next, and chastised for being critical because the only thing you’re allowed to be in Lebanon is supportive, The Insult was a breath of fresh air, and hopefully a new standard by which other Lebanese filmmakers go about their craft.

The release of the movie was not without controversy. Right off the bat of landing in Lebanon for the premiere, director Ziad Doueiry was briefly arrested and had his French and Lebanese passports confiscated because his prior movie, The Assault, had been filmed in Israel. He was ultimately trialled and released without charges.

“The Insult” is about the Palestinian Yasser (Kamel El Basha), a respected foreman in Beirut charged with fixing building-code violations, who encounters car mechanic Toni (Adel Karam) whose building has an illegal drainpipe. After Yasser suggests fixing the drainpipe, Toni slams the door in his face, which prompts Yasser to fix the drainpipe anyway, leading to an insult from Yasser’s side.

This single slur then becomes the hallmark for a court case that divides the nation, pitting Palestinian refugee and construction worker, against a Lebanese Christian. The court case evolves into more than just insults, but into the long standing sectarian grievances that plague our daily lives back home.

The political backdrop of “The Insult” are historical speeches of Bachir Gemayel, with all the political pulsations that such speeches entail on the relationship between Lebanese – mostly Christians – and Palestinians refugees; it’s essentially a cross examination of an aspect of Lebanese society that many of us do not routinely address.

I recently had the honor to watch this movie in New York City. The experience of “The Insult”was humbling. It was a movie so about home, that I was watching from so far away. For the duration of its runtime, I was transported back to the streets of Achrafieh that I knew, to those encounters and discussions that we know all too well. It was so engrossing that I was disoriented, exiting that New York City theatre, as to where I was. It’s a work of art that renders you speechless, worthy of an Oscar nomination.

The entire cast did such a phenomenal job, with career defining performances. I was a proud Lebanese watching those actors soar on screen, in front of Americans who were as engrossed as I was, despite them not being aware of the historical backdrop to which the scenes unfold. It doesn’t matter – the struggles illustrated in “The Insult” are universal, transcending politics, and attaining human nature.

With that movie, Ziad Doueiry has proven once again that Lebanon has enough reservoir of stories to make proper cinema, as our brains are rendered numb with the barrage of worthless junk that fills theaters. Congrats to the makers of the movie and all of the cast, you’ve made us tremendously proud. Best of luck to you, and I hope you bring home that trophy.

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“West Beirut” and “The Insult” Director Ziad Doueiri Arrested in Beirut Because His Last Movie Was In Israel

Pity the nation that insults its people as other nations honor them.

Ziad Doueiri is probably the most essential contemporary Lebanese cinematic director. His movie “West Beirut” is probably the most renowned Lebanese movie for the past 2 decades and his latest “The Insult” just made its debut at the Venice Film Festival to rave reviews and a best actor win for Kamel El Basha, starring as Yasser in the aforementioned movie.

And yet, here we are, with such a Lebanese pioneer being arrested because his prior movie, The Attack, was set in Israel even if it did not show the Israeli state in a good light.

I had the chance to watch The Attack in 2013 when I was with a friend in Paris. That same movie had been banned in Lebanon because it was set in Israel. Understandable, given the country couldn’t even handle a movie where the main actress was Israeli. And even though I was not a fan of that movie at the time, I was still able to commend the fact that it commanded a discussion. Be it with the other Lebanese who watched it with me, or the French people in that theatre who were wondering about what the details the movie discussed actually meant.

“The Insult” opens in theaters in Lebanon in a few days. Local movie reviewers such as Anis Tabet have given it a glowing recommendation. But that seems not to be on the same wavelength of the Lebanese state that’s arrested Mr. Doueiri at our airport for “dealing with the enemy.” He was coming here prior to the Tuesday premiere of his movie.

It’s horrifying to see how narrow-minded we can be and how despicable our levels can sink when dealing with the people of our country that help raise our voice on international levels, such as Mr. Doueiri, because of convoluted measures that have no reflection whatsoever on reality: a person filming a movie in Israel does not mean they are in bed with the enemy.

Following his arrest at the airport, Doueiri’s Lebanese and French passports were both confiscated. He is scheduled to stand trial in front of Military Court tomorrow at 9AM, Beirut time. Meanwhile, his movie “The Insult” has been selected by the Lebanese Ministry of Culture to represent Lebanon at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Bipolarity much? Not only are they arresting him five years after he had been in Israel and after multiple visits back to Beirut, but you can’t also arrest a director for “treason”, and then use him to propel you on the international cinematic stage. You can’t arrest a Lebanese citizen and then use his work to wash away the many failings that constitute your modern republic.

The arrest of Ziad Doueiri comes after a complaint lodged against him. Expect the campaign against the director to go into full blown mania soon.

It’s not just the lack of consistency that’s horrifying, it’s the absolute carelessness of our basic rights as citizens, and the fact we are at the whim of some entities that have nothing better to do.

The entire notion that Military Court can judge civil issues is abysmal. It’s even worse when you realize that Doueiry was in Lebanon to film “The Insult,” even spending two weeks doing so at the country’s highest court.

The question therefore becomes: why now? What prompted them to realize just before his movie’s Lebanese release that he has a troublesome past?

I bet some people in Lebanon would be happy to see Mr. Doueiri foresake his Lebanese citizenship. After all, the bar at which some label others as traitors seems to fluctuate depending on whether their existence is essential or not. At the rate we’re going, he wouldn’t be mistaken to do so. After all, we have no issue with any other foreigner who’s visited Israel to come into the country as long as their passport doesn’t have a stamp.

Utterly despicable. Here’s hoping the Prime Minister and our government see through this bullshit.

Update: he’s been cleared by military court.