"The Insult" Could Be the First Arabic Language Film to Win an Academy Award
By: Emiliya Strahilova/Arab America Contributing Writer
Just before the end of 2017, the Academy announced the nine shortlisted contestants for Best Foreign Language Film of the 90th edition of the Oscars. Out of the record number of eight submissions in the Arabic language from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, and Tunisia, only one was a finalist. The story which captured the attention of the jury was the Lebanese L’insulte /The Insult.
It’s one of only a handful of times, an Arab movie has reached this far in the final competition. However, it’s not the only precedent this year.
Syria made their initial entry into the category with director Sam Kadi’s documentary project, Little Gandhi. The movie is created around the personality of Ghiyath Matar-an activist fighting for peaceful revolution at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. Kadi collected all the material for Little Gandhi without entering Syria. The interviews were made via the Internet and with risk for the life of the participants. Therefore, the picture is extremely graphic with bombs and guns which can be heard and ruins can be seen in the surrounding area.
Earlier last year, it was announced that UAE was also qualified to submit a film. Unfortunately, the Emirates committee responsible for the choice of the submission didn’t come up with an agreement: “We want to make sure that the first film we send really has the standard to talk to an international audience. We don’t have to be emotional about this. Just because we have the chance to, it doesn’t mean we should just send any film,” said Abdul Hamid Juma, chairman of the Dubai International Film Festival. Eventually, they didn’t send a film at all.
Israel’s entry, Foxtrot, was welcomed by the critics and moved forward to the next stage of the nominations but didn’t miss to trigger polemics. Director Samuel Maoz was directly attacked by Israel culture minister who condemned the movie as a “traitorous act”.
Foxtrot draws a picture of the brutality of war through the personal tragedy of one family. It shows disapproval of military occupation in Israel and views Palestinians as innocent people. In an interview, Moez replies to Minister Regev’s allegations: “Every human society should strive to be better and improve itself. The basic and necessary condition for improvement is the ability to accept self-criticism. If I criticize the place where I live, I do it because I worry. I do it because I want to protect it. I do it from love.”
The next phase of the nominations will be on January 23rd when four movies will fall out, while the final winner will be awarded at the Academy Awards ceremony on March 4th.
The Success of Lebanon
The Insult was nominated at the Valladolid International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival. In Venice Kamel El Basha won the prize for Best Actor. Kamel plays a Palestinian refugee (Yasser) who gets into an argument with Christian mechanic, Tony (Adel Karam) who got angry by trivial circumstances. The conflict escalates to the point where it becomes more than private because Tony decides to sue Yasser. Most of the action in the movie is in a court setting and is a reminiscence of painful historical events from the past. Both main characters have suffered from violence, both of them were forced to leave their home. One was a political refugee who escaped Israeli occupation in 1948 and the other was chased out during the Lebanese Civil War in the eighties. Still, they feel opposed to each other.
At the same time, the script is written with a healthy dose of a sense of humor. Director Ziad Doueiri (who studied in the U.S. and assisted Quentin Tarantino in various productions) skillfully entangles the personal with the collective, in a story about a battle between the ego and the empathy. An immense advantage of the film is that it can be understood even by those who never witnessed war and it actually can be educational for a younger generation audience.
Although the characters were immersed in a tense court confrontation, underneath they are only humans. There is a contradiction between the seriousness of the unresolved political problems, and the everyday life where people with different backgrounds and views face similar issues. In one scene, Yasser’s car breaks down and Tony’s natural reaction is to fix it because this is his job and it won’t cost him anything. This moment reminds us that it is possible to move on and forgive. The film suggests that in order to forget, though, Yasser and Tony need to go back and experience the tragedies that happened to them again, because this is the way to overcome them and rise above.
The Insult, just like almost every Middle Eastern submission for the Oscars, created a scandal in the country of its origin. Doueiri was boycotted in Lebanon because of his previous production The Attack that was partly shot in Israel.
Regardless, internationally, critics have been generous and praised The Insult. It scores impressively high ratings. Currently, the film can be seen in theatres throughout the U.S.