Saturday, September 1, 2018

Regarding the film 'the insult'

Last night I saw the Lebanese film 'The Insult' with some friends in Sydney. I had already seen it with Greg Burris when it first came out in Beirut. I enjoyed the film the first time and I enjoyed it again the second time. It goes without saying that it is an excellent film as far as directing, camera work and acting by all those concerned. I don't think many would dispute that. The more difficult question and the one that has given rise to many controversies is the content. ( I am concentrating on the film - there is also a controversy around the director for filming his previous film The Attack in Israel, not just going there but using Israeli labour, Israeli institutions etc...)
The movie starts with someone who is for all practical purposes a hard core Christian Lebanese (this has as little to do with religion as the description of someone as 'a hard core Irish Catholic'). The viewer is invited to see him as a classical Christian right-winger who oozes anti-Palestinian prejudices and that it is only such prejudice that can explain why he is after the Palestinian foreman who 'insulted' him.
But then the film dramatically turns the tables and invite us to sympathise and understand this Christian's anti-Palestinian prejudices by locating their source in a famous historical event during the Lebanese civil war that involved the Palestinian/Lebanese Leftists invading the isolated Christian Lebanese town of Damour and massacring many of its inhabitants and turning the survivors into refugees.
I think the film maker is *affectively* quite sympathetic to the idea articulated by one of the characters of the film and that is that 'all sides of the Lebanese political scene have suffered, but some suffering (that of the Palestinians) is more recognised nationally and internationally while the Christians' suffering is neither recognised nor allowed to express itself publicly in post-war Lebanon'. 
While the film says and shows all the right things about the reality in which the Palestinians in Lebanon exist: prejudice, discrimination, lack of rights, poverty, etc... all of it however is presented as if it exists in the order of this 'etc.' That is, it is more often than not normalised and presented to the viewer in a way that does not create an 'overly outraged' identification with the Palestinian subject. This is more retrospectively experienced. For, when we get to what the Christians of Damour have suffered at the hands of the Palestinians and the Left we get a horrendous, detailed and sustained historical footage. There is no doubt that this footage has an exceptional dramatic impact on the unfolding of the film. and it works well. Personally the footage took me back to the rawness of the Lebanese civil war and I was very affected by it.
But, in one way, this footage is a bit of a cheap shot. I don't want to be absolutist here and I am glad the footage was there. It raises issues that I am happy to see them raised in a film destined to be seen by a wide Lebanese audience.
Still, the fact remains that the whole Damour massacre-Christian prejudice connection operates like the famous Lacanian formula of the cause that comes after its effect. The Christian right's prejudice towards the Palestinians is a form of prejudiced racism that was hardly dependent on a 'rational cause' that led for it to come into existence. It predates the Lebanese civil war and is in part an extension of the Lebanese Christian colonialist sympathies and racism towards muslims. So the Damour massacre here, to continue with another Lacanian image, is a psychologically comforting reality: It is always comforting to find a good reason to hate someone you hate for no reason.
Let me explain this in a western context: Let's say you make a movie about someone X who is shown to be prejudiced about refugees. but then you show that fifteen years ago a person of refugee background has tried to rob X's house and in the process killed his wife. There is no reason why we can't imagine such an event occurring and it'll make for some good drama and everything in the film may well be of the order of a reality that can possibly unfold. There is no problem about that. the only problem is to let the viewers think that X's prejudice against refugees stands for the prejudice refugees experience in the west in general. To me this is the weakest point in the portrayal of the link between the macro and micro social processes that the movie explores.
For all that, I think this is a good film that offers an intelligent space for thinking and talking about the sense of injury that is articulated to various forms of politics. Needless to say, this articulation is not just part of Lebanese politics but is part of global politics today.