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The year 2018 is barely underway, yet with “The Insult,” opening January 12, we already have a powerful film that deserves to be remembered when at the end of the year critics begin looking at films for best lists. The film is from Lebanon and has been directed by Ziad Doueiri, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joëlle Touma.

Cleverly constructed, “The Insult” begins early in the film with an argument between two men, Toni Hanna (Adel Karam), a Lebanese Christian enthusiastic about right-wing rhetoric and owner of a car repair garage, and Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha), a Palestinian refugee and construction foreman living in Lebanon but working illegally.

An argument with racial, nationalistic and political undertones between the two men leads to blows, and an insult, in which Toni tells Yasser that Ariel Sharon should have wiped “you all out.” The confrontation escalates until it soars on a national scale, as the conflict opens up wounds involving various factions and deep-seated resentments again the Palestinian population, some 10% of Lebanon’s residents.

An apology is ruled out of the question by the combatants, and soon, as the issue is exploited by the media and as a case heads to court, the men become symbols of nagging old wounds and explosive resentments, with a key revelation surfacing.

Other personal issues also simmer, as when it turns out that the lawyers facing each other on opposite sides in the courtroom drama that rages are father and daughter. (An unnecessary diversion?) We also learn about the personal lives of the combatants involved, and see their human reactions. Each is proud, but we sense that they might be moving toward a resolution if only pride could be swept aside.

The strength of “The Insult” lies partly in its deft storytelling, but also as a revelation of the deep-rooted conflicts in Lebanon, and compels us to look at the situation there. Yet the film never loses touch with the men at the core. That is both as a result of the astute screenplay and excellence of the key actors who make their characters bitingly real. That includes Camille Salameh and Diamand Abou Abboud portraying the opposing lawyers.

“The Insult” is definitely a distinguished film to see in your early 2018 movie-going. It is another example of the Cohen Media Group’s dedication to acquisition of important films. A Cohen Media Group release. Reviewed January 9, 2018.

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