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The Insult is about inner conflict, it's not about the outside conflict”

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Ziad Doueiri • Director

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- VENICE 2017: Cineuropa caught up with Lebanese writer-director Ziad Doueiri, whose fourth feature, The Insult, is playing in competition on the Lido

Ziad Doueiri  • Director
(© La Biennale di Venezia - foto ASAC)

The Insult [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Ziad Doueiri
film profile
]
, about a racially motivated slur that ends in a courtroom battle, is the fourth feature by award-winning Lebanese writer-director Ziad Doueiri (after West Beirut, Lila Says and The Attack [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Ziad Doueiri
film profile
]
). Playing in competition at the Venice Film Festival, it was produced by US outfits Ezekiel Films and Cohen Media Group, Lebanon’s Douri Films, France’s Tessalit Productions and Rouge International, and Belgium’s Scope Pictures. Sales are by Indie Sales.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: What made you want to make this film about a Lebanese guy telling a Palestinian refugee that he wished that his people had been wiped out?
Ziad Doueiri:
 To be honest, I don't know! There is not one single reason why a writer sits down, opens a laptop and starts writing. I have a family, a mum and a dad, who are very politically engaged. Plus you have an area that is always on fire – the Middle East is not the most stable place, and Lebanon is a place with an intense and rich history. Put all these things together, and something is bound to come up. But I think if I chose to write The Insult or The Attack, it was because we always want to have stories. I can tell you that with The Insult, what kicked it off was a particular incident that happened to me.

What happened?
What you see in the first five minutes of the film is based on an incident that happened to me three years ago in Beirut. I was watering my plants, and the water started trickling off my balcony and landing on a guy below. The guy screamed, “You motherfucker!” I said, “Why are you insulting me?” He replied, “Because your water is falling on me.” I noticed from his accent that he was Palestinian, and I said what you shouldn't say to a Palestinian. I wanted to hurt him as much as possible, and I said the worst thing possible, the words you hear in the film.

Do you regret what you said?
I said the right thing! You know, I’ve developed a knack for insulting people very, very expertly. It's like over time I have learned how to insult people in a way that will hurt them the most. My girlfriend at the time [now his wife and co-screenwriter, Joëlle Touma] said, “How could you talk to a Palestinian like that?” So I went down to the guy as he was cleaning the streets, and I said, “Look, I apologise.” He couldn't even look me in the eyes; he was very, very hurt.

You then move the argument that they are having off the street and into the courtroom. Why a courtroom drama? 
I thought it would fit the story. The idea of making a courtroom drama came to me very quickly through taking notes. Also, my mum is a lawyer; she's 80 years old, and even today she still goes to her office every day. Two of my uncles are in the Supreme Court, where they are huge judges, so I was always familiar with the legal mumbo jumbo. So I started buying DVDs to see how they did it in order to make great movies, like The Verdict. The film is not about a trial; the trial is just a vehicle to get from point A to point B. Toni and Yasser – two simple, middle-class people – have a lot of dignity, but they have a serious wound, and throughout the trial they heal themselves, that’s it. It could have been a court, or it could have been on a camping trip, a bicycle or whatever, because The Insult is about inner conflict, it's not about the outside conflict.

There is a disclaimer at the start of the film, saying that the movie does not represent the view of the Lebanese government.
I did not write this disclaimer. Two months ago, we submitted the film to the censorship bureau, and I was very nervous about it. In the West it's okay to make movies like this, but for the Lebanese it's not; it's a very touchy subject. We are not that democratic yet. I was sitting there biting my nails because the film may have been forbidden to play in Beirut, just like my previous film The Attack was banned, and I didn't want to live through that nightmare again. For two months, there was negotiation over the film. Finally, after a lot of manoeuvring behind closed doors, the government said, “We are going to give you the green light. But please say that we are not responsible.” They asked for the statement to be put up for two minutes, but that’s boring, so I put it up for 30 seconds. Actually, I think when the film is shown in France or America, we are going to cut that statement.

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