Directed by Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri ("The Attack"), "The Insult" is a thorny morality play about life in the Middle East, as a minor altercation between two men ends up in a court case that ignites long-simmering tensions and anger which eventually threatens to tear their country apart.
Tony (Adel Karam) is a hot-headed but hard-working auto mechanic, and a devotee of his country's right-wing Christian politics. One day, he's hosing down the terrace of the Beirut apartment he shares with his pregnant wife, Shirine (Rita Hayek). Due to an improperly installed drainpipe, the water ends up splashing down onto construction foreman Yasser (Kamel El Basha), a Palestinian refugee. An annoyed Yasser orders his men to fix the gutters without Tony's permission, but Tony smashes the new drain to pieces, incensed by what he perceives as a slight against him. He demands an apology, but Yasser refuses to give it.
Neither man backs down, allowing their pride to escalate a petty dispute into a tense and eventually violent confrontation. The resulting trial opens up old wounds throughout the country's population, leading to even more terrible repercussions. As we learn of the suffering and injustice each man has endured throughout their lives, it's clear that their lingering anger has fueled their every move, conspiring to keep them engaged in seemingly never-ending conflict.
In delving into Lebanon's complicated history, JoëlleTouma's script sometimes strains to make its points. But as it puts forth an ultimately optimistic view of humanity, "The Insult" gathers potency to become an affecting plea for empathy and understanding.