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Oscar-Nominated Film 'The Insult' Shines Light on Divided Lebanon

20 February, 2018

Ziad Doueiri's film The Insult has been nominated to receive the Academy Award for best foreign language film.

The film explores the cultural, religious and political divides that have existed in Lebanon since 1948.

The story is rooted in a dispute between two men from different ethnic and religious backgrounds in Beirut, Lebanon.

Through the film, Doueiri shows a country he believes is broken because it has not dealt with its painful history.

"Beirut, Lebanon had a rough past," Doueiri said. "We had a lot of conflict with the Syrians, the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Left, the Right, the Conservatives, the Liberals. The pro-West, the pro-East. Lebanon is such a tiny place, but it really absorbs all those kinds of things. He addes, "So, whenever you have that many conflicts and such a tiny place surrounded by so many countries we are on a hotbed of problems."

The Lebanese filmmaker said the effects of his country's civil war can still be felt.

"Things can get out of hand because since the end of the civil war the Lebanese never sat down with each other to say, 'ok the war is over, let's talk about it.' There is stability, but it can explode any time," he said.

The Insult brings to life Lebanon's difficult political climate.

Two men in Beirut have a small dispute. As the disagreement sharpens, it comes to represent a much larger problem.

Tony is a Christian, who works as a car mechanic. Yasser is a Palestinian. He heads a building project.

A leaking pipe leaves Tony wet. Yasser fixes the pipe only to see Tony destroy it. He is angry that a Palestinian came so close to his property. Yasser becomes angry, too and insults Tony.

Tony's pregnant wife tells Tony to let it end there. But Tony ignores the advice and goes to Yasser's employer. He demands that Yasser apologize and be fined for his behavior.

Like most Palestinian refugees who live in Lebanon, Yasser does not have a work permit. His boss pressures him to apologize or face dismissal.

When Yasser meets with Tony, their argument intensifies. This time it is Tony who insults Yasser. Yasser hits Tony and breaks some bones. Tony takes legal action.

Doueiri said the idea for his film came from personal experience.

"Just like the film starts, I was watering my plants. It's an old apartment so the water leaked and fell on one of the construction workers and he yelled because the water fell on him and we had a heated exchange of words and we ended up yelling at each other."

Doueiri said his argument was settled. Later, he said, he imagined what might happen if such a small incident was not settled. Could it develop into a national crisis in Lebanon, he wondered.

In The Insult, the two men take the dispute all the way up to the country's Supreme Court.

Doueiri said his latest film has caused mixed reactions in Lebanon.

"When the film came out, it split the country in a way because the Christian population flooded the movie and it became #1. But certain part, and I want just to be accurate, a certain part, a big part of the Muslim community boycotted the movie."

As a filmmaker, Doueiri has been at the center of controversy before. His earlier film, The Attack, was banned in 22 countries, including Lebanon, because he had shot it in Israel.

He said some Arab countries, including Jordan and the Palestinian territories, have also boycotted The Insult.

Doueiri said his film offers a balanced study between Christian Lebanese and Muslim Palestinians.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Penelope Poulou wrote this story for VOA News. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

background n. the experiences, knowledge, education, etc., in a person's past

hotbed n. a place where something grows or develops easily : a place where something happens very commonly

out of hand expression uncontrolled; wild

stability n. the quality or state of something that is not easily changed or likely to change

controversy n. argument that involves many people who strongly disagree about something : strong disagreement about something among a large group of peopl

scene n. a part of a play, movie, story, etc., in which a particular action or activity occurs