THE INSULT: 3 ½ STARS
“The Insult,” Lebanon's first-ever Academy Award nomination for best foreign-language film, centers around a small slight that escalates until the eyes of a nation are turned toward it.
The problems begin with a leaky illegal drainpipe on Lebanese Christian auto mechanic named Tony’s (Adel Karam) Beirut balcony. When it drips water unto a construction crew working below, Palestinian Muslim refugee Yasser (Kamel El Basha) patches it. Enraged a stranger has tampered with his property Tony undoes the work and demands an apology. “He thinks he’s a hotshot but he’s not.” Tony rants. “He better apologise for insulting me.” When the men meet, Tony, who is revealed as a fan of anti-Palestinian Christian leader Bachir Gemayel, blurts out "I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out." A physical confrontation leads to a court trial which becomes a media sensation.
Writer-director Ziad Doueiri, who worked as a camera assistant under Quentin Tarantino on “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown,” uses the small story of two men and a disagreement to shine a light on an old and continuing deadlock in the Middle East. Buoyed by terrific performances—El Basha won the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival—the film comments on the Lebanese civil war in microcosm. Boiling the country’s history of unrest between Sunni Muslims and Christians down to a personal story puts a human face on a huge problem. Doueiri humanizes the conflict metaphorically, showing the effects of dehumanizing rhetoric and hate.
“The Insult” is a serious, powerful film that offers not only emotion but also empathy.
MIDNIGHT RETURN: 3 ½ STARS
In 1978, the movie “Midnight Express” was a big hit. The true story of Billy Hayes and his escape from a Turkish prison packed audiences, won a screenwriting Oscar for Oliver Stone and made Hayes a media star. It also enraged the Turkish people and led to a major decline in tourism to that country. A new documentary is part true-life crime story, part making-of doc and part mea culpa.
Written and directed by Sally Sussman “Midnight Return” gathers all the original players—Hayes, Stone, director Alan Parker and more—to tell the tale of Hayes’s arrest in Istanbul, at age 23, for smuggling hashish. The year was 1970 and Hayes was sentenced to four years and two months in a Turkish prison. After serving the bulk of the time he was resentenced to life behind bars. He escaped in 1975, making his way to Greece and then into the waiting arms of his parents in the United States.
Upon his stateside arrival he was a cause celeb. His book, “Midnight Express,” detailed his ordeal in gruesome detail. The film, starring Brad Davis, drew praise from critics but was criticized for its portrayal of Turkish people. Director Parker even admits the Turkish actors aren’t even speaking Turkish in the film and that no effort was made to be culturally authentic. Despite accolades at home, Hayes was vilified in Turkey, seen as an agent of propaganda and universally hated.
This entertaining doc details Hayes’s life and efforts to rehabilitate his reputation in the country that once held him prisoner. Chock full of anecdotes about the making of the film—Stone and Parker did NOT get along— and insights to Hayes’s life both before and after his arrest, “Midnight Return” makes the most of its talking head presentation.
Of all the characters, Hayes stands out. He’s a showboater but despite his extroverted ways it is apparent his time away had a profound impact on him. The film’s final third act, his trip back to Istanbul, reveals the deep level of hurt that lies beneath his bravura exterior. Those revelations, mostly captured on home grade video, deepen the impact of the movie, elevating “Midnight Return” from talking head doc to character study.
IN THE FADE: 3 STARS
To paraphrase James Baldwin, “The most dangerous creation of any society is the woman who has nothing to lose." “In the Fade” (“Aus dem Nichts”), the new thriller from German director Fatih Akin, brings this truism to life.
When we first meet Katja (Diane Kruger in her first German language film) she has a normal life. Living in Germany, married to Turkish immigrant accountant Nuri (Numan Acar), she has a young son named Rocco and a large extended family. Her well-ordered life is disrupted, forever changed, when Nuri and Rocco are killed in a Neo-Nazi nail bomb attack. Her life in shards, she attempts suicide, endures a drawn out court trial—“Imagine if they had gotten me and Rocco and Nuri had lived. He wouldn’t have stood for all this chit chat,” she says of the court case—and finally, a showdown between her and the people responsible for tearing her life apart.
“In the Fade’s” story of terrorism and violence against immigrants is a timely one. Footage like the bombed out storefront where Nuri did business have become commonplace on the nightly news. What is less commonplace, on the news, is the revenge aspect. Her need for vengeance, no matter the cost, drives the final third of the film.
Broken into three distinct segments, “The Family,” “Justice” and “The Sea,” the film almost feels like three separate shorts bound together by one character. Kruger is the glue that makes the movie as compelling as it is. A churning vessel of rage, hurt and despair, she is a very human presence at the centre of a bleak story.
“In the Fade” closes with a title card detailing the violence against immigrants in Germany each year. It is a powerful statement made in a movie that drives the point home by honing the horror of widespread violence down to one, very personal story.