Tag Archives: B+

THE INSULT (L’INSULTE)

Producer: Antoun Sehnaoui, Jean Brehat, Rachid Bouchareb, Julie Gayet and Nadia Turincev
Director: Ziad Doueiri
Writer: Ziad Doueiri and Joelle Touma
Stars: Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salame, Diamand Bou Abboud, Christine Choueiri, Rita Hayek, Georges Daou, Carlos Chahine and Julia Kassar
Studio: Cohen Media Group

B+

A minor personal dispute turns into a legal and political cause célèbre in Ziad Doueiri’s “The Insult,” in the process reflecting the religious and ethnic fractures within present-day Lebanon. While the Oscar-nominated film is certainly wordy, sometimes makes its points too bluntly and softens toward the close, it proves a powerful intimate drama with broader overtones.

We are first introduced to Tony Hanna (Adel Karam), a garage mechanic, as he applauds an incendiary speech by a right-wing Christian politician. Tony is married to lovely Sherine (Rita Hayek), who is happily pregnant with his child but concerned with his angry attitude.

Tony has a small garden on his balcony, which he regularly waters. Unfortunately, the drainage pipe is defective, sending a stream into the street below. A work crew has been hired by the city to do repairs in the area, and its foreman Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha), a Palestinian refugee, notices the pipe and notes that he must repair it. Hannah responds with a stream of invective, and when Yasser does the repair anyway, Tony rips it down. Yasser responds with an insult.

Coming from a hated Muslim, this is something Hannah will not tolerate: he demands an apology, which the proud Salameh refuses because of his attitude. Though his boss (Talal Jurdi) tries to smooth things over, he cannot resolve the impasse. Tony responds with a lawsuit against him, in response to which Salameh meekly places himself on the court’s mercy. When the verdict doesn’t go his way, Hannah furiously accuses the judge of prejudice against Christians and is thrown out for his pains.

Things now get worse. Another attempt at reconciliation ends when Tony so insults Yassser that the latter punches him, breaking a couple of ribs. When Sherine nearly loses their child, it only further enflames his rage. By now Tony has decided to go for broke, appealing the case to a higher court and hiring a prominent Christian lawyer, Wajdi Wehbe (Camille Salameh), who sees the political hay that can be made, to present his case before a panel headed by a female judge (Julia Kassar).

But Yassser is not without resources: a young, inexperienced lawyer named Nadine (Diamand Bou Abboud)—who will eventually be revealed to have a strong family tie to Wajdi—offers her services to him. The courtroom confrontation that results is reflected in increasing street violence between the opposing forces in the country, and even the intervention of the president cannot bring a solution.

The denouement comes when Wajdi presents evidence that explains, to some degree at least, the source of his client’s implacable hatred of Muslims. By this time both men have come to realize the damage their dispute has brought to their families and the nation, and reached a kind of private reconciliation. But their recognition of the pain that the other has suffered cannot paper over the divisions that still roil the general populace.

“The Insult,” in must be admitted, is not a subtle film: it is definitely schematic, and makes it points passionately and directly. That’s reflected in the performances, which can be accused in some cases (Karam in particular) of being over-the-top, especially in contrast to the quiet desperation El Basha so beautifully conveys. But it is undeniably effective in disclosing the seeds of the internecine conflict in Lebanon, and Doueiri skillfully weaves together the personal and political elements in the script he has fashioned with Joëlle Touma. Working with cinematographer Tommaso Fiorillli, he also juggles the different visual styles of the courtroom sequences and the grittier domestic ones.

“The Insult” may remind you of some of the films that have come out of Iran in recent years. That is high praise.

IN THE FADE (AUS DEM NICHTS)

Producer: Nurhan Sekerci-Porst, Fatih Akin and Herman Weigel
Director: Fatih Akin
Writer: Fatih Akin and Hark Bohm
Stars: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Johannes Krisch, Samia Chancrin, Numan Acar, Ulrich Tukur, Rafael Santana, Hanna Hilsdorf, Ulrich Friedrich Brandhoff, Hartmut Loth, Ioannis Economides, Karian Neuhauser, Uwe Rohde, Asim Demirel and Eyel Iscan
Studio: Magnolia Pictures

B+

A few months back we were treated to “American Assassin,” a simple-minded action movie in which a young American seeks revenge on the terrorists who killed his fiancée, joining a special branch of the CIA in the process. Fatih Akin’s new film has a similar plot, but couldn’t be more different. Depending more on words than mayhem, it’s a thriller that’s somber, slow-moving and quietly heartbreaking.

Diane Kruger, in her first German-language film, plays Katja, who in the opening sequence marries Nuri Şekerci (Numan Acar), a drug-dealer just released from prison. Some years later they’re living contently with their darling young son Rocco (Rafael Santana).

One day Katja drops Rocco off at Nuri’s office to have a day at the spa with her chum Brigit (Samia Chancrin). When she returns, she finds to her horror that a bomb had been placed outside the building. She eventually learns that her husband and son have died in the blast.

Knowing of Nuri’s past, and his Turkish lineage, the police suspect that he was killed by criminal associates, but devastated Katja—who in her depression even attempts suicide—dismisses that possibility, as does her lawyer friend Danilo (Denis Moschitto). And she is correct: the perpetrators are eventually found—a neo-Nazi couple, André and Edda Möller (Ulrich Friedrich Brandhoff and Hanna Hilsdorf); indeed, Katja had seen Edda leave the bicycle containing the bomb at the curb while departing for the spa.

At their trial, Danilo offers a spirited case for the prosecution, but the defense attorney, Haberbeck (Johannes Krisch)—who looks as if he might have been a guard at Auschwitz, and uses every underhanded trick he can—sows sufficient doubt to secure an acquittal.

Katja is emotionally destroyed a second time, and decides to pursue vengeance herself, going to Greece, where a witness, who obviously perjured himself by providing an alibi for the Möllers, lives. After a dangerous encounter with him, she tracks down the guilty couple to a caravan that they have set up on the coast and prepares to surprise them in a poetically just fashion and deal with her own grief.

Kruger is definitely the film’s lynchpin, giving a performance that conveys deep reservoirs of emotion without becoming showy, but the supporting cast is formidable as well. Pride of place is taken by the opposing counsels—Moschitto’s righteous Danilo and Krisch’s sinister Haberbeck, both of whom excel in the long courtroom scenes. But there are telling turns from others—especially Hilsdorf as the serpentine Edda, Ulrich Tukur as her sorrowful father, and little Santana as the child Rocco, whose reappearances in the home movies Katja obsessively watches may be manipulative, but work because he’s such a darling kid. The technical credits are uniformly solid, with Tamo Kunz’s production design and Rainer Klausmann’s cinematography creating a darkly morose mood even in scenes that are brightly lit, while Andrew Bird’s unrushed editing adds to the atmosphere, as does the varied score by Joshua Homme.

“In the Fade” subverts the crude expectations that a meretricious piece like “American Assassin” willingly succumbs to, becoming a far more moving and credible film in the process.