The Insult is the fourth feature film from France-based Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri, and is currently screening in the United States. The movie has been shortlisted in the Best Foreign Language Film category for this year’s Oscars, set for March 4, 2018.
Following on from West Beirut (1998), Lila Says (2004) and The Attack (2012), the moviemaker who used to work as Quentin Tarantino’s assistant cameraman on Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown is offering his vision of Lebanese society. The Insult depicts two men locked in a dispute in modern Lebanon. Tony is a fortysomething Christian who runs a garage and is a strong supporter of the Lebanese Forces party. Yasser is a Palestinian construction manager who lives in a refugee camp. The story begins with an argument between the two men that escalates into a government matter. The pair face each other in court, and old wounds from the civil war are reopened.
France-Amérique: The Insult shows how difficult it is to move on from animosity inherited from conflicts. Do you think it is still necessary to turn a critical eye on Lebanon’s past 30 years after the end of the civil war?
Ziad Doueiri: There is no set rule, but it is always better to have a national dialogue. It allows for a reconciliation that strengthens the future, just like the dialogue between the Germans and the French after World War II. There was amnesty but no reconciliation after the civil war in Lebanon, and the scars are still very present just like in other countries. My movie was shown at the Valladolid Film Festival in Spain last October, and the audience was particularly moved because the history of the Lebanese conflict was made all the more poignant by local events [Spain’s profound division between Catalan independentists and unionists]. It was screened the same day Catalonia declared its independence from Spain, and the emotion was palpable. The page was turned very quickly after Franco. There was no national dialogue and Spanish society is still suffering from these rifts 40 years on. I do think that a national dialogue is hugely important for healing the wounds of the past. Society can function without it, but not nearly as well.
The two warring protagonists in the movie both believe justice is neutral, and that it won’t serve their cause. What is your view?
Lebanon is trying to be a country based on civil law, but certain exceptions show the opposite. In a similar way to a western, my movie portrays a face-off between two opposing characters. One of them believes in justice and is bent on following judicial procedure to the letter, while the other has no faith in the legal system. These two characters are forced to meet, go head to head, and look each other in the eyes. The movie does not hinge on the verdict of the trial, which allows for the underlying suspense, but rather the search for justice and dignity. It’s a universal story.
You have lived in Lebanon and the United States, and now you are based in France. What relationship do you have with these three countries?
I graduated from the University of San Diego and lived in Los Angeles for 18 years. I now live in France, but I spent a year in Lebanon while filming The Insult, and America is never far from my mind. The movie is a joint venture between Lebanon, France, and the United States. On a more personal level, I have a complicated but enjoyable relationship with all three of them. I see it as an advantage; I don’t feel stuck in one culture. I miss France when I’m in America, and I miss Lebanon when I’m in France. There is always a form of indecision when you live in another country; it’s hard to know where you want to settle. I enjoy the warmth of Lebanese culture, but I don’t feel particularly free due to the government. I feel really free in France, and there is an incredible tolerance. And I love the professional energy in America. My screenwriting is inspired by a combination of all three cultures. The Insult was written in English then translated in Arabic and French, just like The Attack. I feel more comfortable writing in English, I see it as the language of cinema.