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THE INSULT: 3 ½ STARS. “a serious, powerful film that offers emotion and empathy.”

“The Insult,” Lebanon’s first-ever Academy Award nomination for best foreign-language film, centers around a small slight that escalates until the eyes of a nation are turned toward it.

The problems begin with a leaky illegal drainpipe on Lebanese Christian auto mechanic named Tony’s (Adel Karam) Beirut balcony. When it drips water unto a construction crew working below, Palestinian Muslim refugee Yasser (Kamel El Basha) patches it. Enraged a stranger has tampered with his property Tony undoes the work and demands an apology. “He thinks he’s a hotshot but he’s not.” Tony rants. “He better apologise for insulting me.” When the men meet Tony, who is revealed as a fan of anti-Palestinian Christian leader Bachir Gemayel, blurts out “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out.” A physical confrontation leads to a court trial which becomes a media sensation.

Writer-director Ziad Doueiri, who worked as a camera assistant under Quentin Tarantino on “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown,” uses the small story of two men and a disagreement to shine a light on an old and continuing deadlock in the Middle East. Buoyed by terrific performances—El Basha won the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival—the film comments on the Lebanese civil war in microcosm. Boiling the country’s history of unrest between Sunni Muslims and Christians down to a personal story puts a human face on a huge problem. Doueiri humanizes the conflict metaphorically, showing the effects of dehumanizing rhetoric and hate.

“The Insult” is a serious, powerful film that offers not only emotion but also empathy.

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