On Tuesday, the 90th Academy Awards revealed the chosen five finalists for Best Foreign Film with Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult making it to the top five marking Lebanon’s first ever entry into the Oscar race.
Released in September, the film faced much controversy in Lebanon. After landing in Lebanon for the film’s premiere, Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri was temporarily put in custody, with his French and Lebanese passports confiscated. The reason? His prior movie, The Attack, was filmed in Israel. Although he was released without charges, the event sparked nationwide debate.
The Insult pictures the relationship between a Maronite Lebanese called Tony (Adel Karam) and Palestinian refugee Yasser (Kamel El Basha). Yasser is a respected construction foreman, assigned to do repairs on apartment buildings, more specifically, fixing building-code violations. One of those buildings happens to be the one where Tony, a mechanic, lives. Tony was using an illegal drainpipe, and after Yasser offered to fix it, Tony slammed the door on his face, prompting Yasser to fix it anyway. This pushed Tony to insult Yasser. The slur becomes the hallmark for a court case that divides the nation, reigniting long-standing sectarian grievances that plague the daily lives of Lebanese citizens.
The movie, a huge success, earned a 5-minute standing ovation following the film’s screening at the Venice Film Festival. The director himself was awarded Best Arab Talent Of The Year 2017 by Variety. Produced by Antoun Sehnaoui – CEO of SGBL – the film also topped Lebanese box office, taking more than 40% of all movie admissions during its opening week. The film is rich with political backdrop and historical speeches, highlighting the complicated relationship tying Lebanese Christians with Palestinian refugees.
Doueiri managed something no film director could until now: to tackle with perspective and transparency a subject so far widely avoided by the Lebanese movie industry. The film itself shows what Lebanese filmmakers can do once political and social censorship is lifted. The film follows a turbulent plot where we witness sudden changes in people’s lives and families pitted against each other. We are also faced with a somewhat realistic view of how far along the path of violence can small sparks of verbal violence lead us.
The Oscars ceremony will take place on the 4th of March, and we all have our fingers crossed!