Author: <span class="vcard">Andrew Xu</span>

Image courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

** ½ (out of 4)

The basic plot of Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult offers a perfect illustration of why the Middle East has become a synonym for intractable conflict. At the film’s start, a right-wing Lebanese Christian named Tony (Adel Karam) gets into a dispute with a Palestinian named Yasser (Kamel El Basha) after the latter calls him a “f***ing prick.” Later, Yasser goes to Tony to apologize, but Tony tells him that “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out [at the Sabra and Shatila massacre].” Yasser reacts by punching Tony in the gut; Tony then decides to sue him. And thanks to a combination of factors – the pompous, big-name lawyer (Camille Salameh) Tony ends up hiring, the fraught history Tony’s insult alludes to – the lawsuit subsequently becomes the talk of all of Lebanon. In an escalation that puts Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole to shame, newspapers, political parties, and even the president of Lebanon all eventually find themselves weighing in on the proceedings.

In his blow-by-blow depiction of Tony and Yasser’s trial and the tensions it stirs up, Doueiri gets a lot of things right. His fast-paced editing doesn’t care much for traditional notions of continuity – new characters and spaces often pop in and out without any real introduction or setup – but it undeniably makes the movie extremely riveting. Both El Basha and Karam deliver convincing performances, even if the latter’s acting occasionally feels over-the-top. And in a testament to his desire for nuance, Doueiri consistently strives to make us understand both sides of the dispute. As both a refugee and the insulted party, Yasser earns our sympathy from the get-go, and Tony’s blatant, unceasing racism towards him only reinforces this sentiment. Yet in a surprise ending twist, the film eventually also introduces us to a part of Tony’s backstory – he’s actually a survivor of the Damour massacre – that helps us better appreciate the roots of his anti-Palestinian attitude.

All of this is enough to make The Insult a solid and readily watchable drama. Unfortunately, the inconsistencies in Doueiri’s narrative approach prevent the film from becoming anything greater.

Reviews - New Releases/Festivals

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

** ½ (out of 4)

When it comes to misfortune in romance, you can’t get much worse than Marina (Daniela Vega), the trans-female protagonist of Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman. At the start of the film, she’s in a relationship with an older man named Orlando (Francisco Reyes), and she appears to have it all: we watch as they celebrate her birthday at a restaurant, talk about vacation plans, and make love in his apartment. Later that same night, however, Orlando wakes up with a pounding headache – and in the span of mere hours, he collapses, tumbles down a flight of stairs, and dies at a nearby hospital. From there, moreover, Marina’s problems only get worse. Thanks to her gender identity, the police become convinced that she had a hand in Orlando’s death, Orlando’s son tries to evict her from Orlando’s apartment – and Orlando’s ex-wife goes so far as to bar her from attending Orlando’s funeral.

The drama that Lelio weaves out of this depressing premise undeniably has plenty to recommend it.

Reviews - New Releases/Festivals

Image courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

*** (out of 4)

In recent months, people have taken to calling Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country a “British Brokeback Mountain.” And in all honesty, it’s not hard to see why. Like Ennis del Mar, God’s protagonist, a 20-something-year-old named Johnny (Josh O’Connor), is a gay, emotionally repressed farmworker who has a deep-rooted aversion to conversation. Just as Ennis met and fell for Jack, moreover, Johnny eventually strikes up a relationship with Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a Romanian migrant worker who comes to work on the livestock farm run by Johnny and his parents (Ian Hart, Gemma Jones). And most significantly, both Brokeback and God’s take place in an environment where civilization is all but nonexistent: the former set Ennis and Jack’s story in the middle of Wyoming, while Johnny and Gheorghe’s romance unfolds against the hilly landscape of rural Yorkshire.

These surface similarities, however, belie the vast differences in form and approach that ultimately make God’s a more satisfying experience than Brokeback.

Reviews - New Releases/Festivals