Palestinian actor Kamel al-Basha won the top acting prize at the 74th edition of the Venice Film Festival on Saturday.
He earned the prize for the Lebanese film, “The Insult,” which also stars Lebanon’s Adel Karam.
The fact that this is the movie’s only award is an indication that it was discussed thoroughly by the jury, chaired by actress Annette Bening, before granting Basha the festival’s top acting honor.
The Golden Lion was awarded to critics’ favorite “The Shape of Water,” a dark fantasy directed by Mexico’s Guillermo del Toro and starring Sally Hawkins.
A trial is the common factor between three films that were in competition at the Venice festival, two of which earned prizes. The movies are Lebanon’s “The Insult”, France’s “Custody,” and Japan’s “The Third Murder.” The Lebanese movie was undoubtedly the best because it managed to avoid being political while addressing a strictly political issue.
The film focuses on two victims, each of whom claims that they were the victim of the other. The first is a Lebanese man, played by Karam, who is influenced by hateful sectarianism directed against Palestinians, believing that the entire system in Lebanon works for them and not the Lebanese people. The second is a Palestinian, played by Basha, who works for a municipal company when the Lebanese man dumps a bucket of water on him and then insults him. The rest of the movie depicts the ensuing trial between Karam and Basha’s characters.
Perhaps the prize went to Basha, who is a professional theater actor living in Jerusalem, because he deserves it for being Palestinian. This is likely because the Israeli film “Foxtrot”, which criticizes the Israeli military, won the festival’s Grand Jury Prize. The Venice jury and its chair, Bening, was mainly comprised of left-leaning members, which also fell in Basha’s favor. This does not undermine his acting achievement, which is fully deserved as he expressed the quiet despair endured while living in Lebanon.
Karam, in contrast, is an open book from the onset of the movie. This is not his fault as it would be difficult to portray him as a gray character given the negative values he stands for. Director Ziad Douery succeeded in allowing the audience to feel some empathy towards the character.
Given its film festival success, it seems likely that Lebanon will submit “The Insult” as a nominee for the Best Foreign Film category at next year’s Academy Awards. It remains to be seen if it will be selected from among the several dozen films that will be submitted from around the world.