Starring Freida Pinto, Hiam Abbass, Yasmine Al Massri, Omar Metwally, Alexandra Siddig, Ruba Blal, Willem Dafoe and Vanessa Redgrave.
Screenplay by Rula Jebreal.
Directed by Julian Schnabel.
Distributed by The Weinstein Company. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13.
In just the broadest strokes, the background story to Miral sounds almost surreal – an acclaimed Jewish-American artist-turned-film-director hires an Indian actress to play a suspected Arab terrorist in a somewhat pro-Palestinian film.
However, when that Jewish director is as fearless and artistic as Oscar-nominee Julian Schnabel (Basquiat, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and the actress was also a huge part of a recent Oscar favorite (Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire), you have to assume that it all is done with artistry and due to a strong belief in the importance of exploring all sides of the debate.
I hate to say it, but even if both had the best of intentions, Miral does not quite do the job that both seemed to hope for. In fact, both – particularly Pinto, who feels badly miscast here – seem to have bitten off more than they can chew.
Miral feels like an interesting-but-ultimately-flawed intellectual attempt at making a compelling look at the Israeli-Palestinian debate. Films from the Middle East (such as Hany Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now or Vidi Bilu & Dalia Hager’s Close to Home) have taken much more nuanced and intriguing looks at the cultural divide.
Miral spans over 50 years in the life of several women to demonstrate the Palestinian conflict. In fact, this long span is to the detriment of the film – way too much is happening too fast. The storyline regularly skips years or even decades with little or no explanation of the ensuing time.
We start right before the treaty that allowed Israel to become a country in 1948. A well-off Palestinian woman named Hind (a wonderful performance by Hiam Abbass) is forced by chance and necessity to found a school for the many Palestinian children who have been left homeless in the skirmishes that ensued after the Israeli arrival.
Then we flash forward to 1967 and the Six-Day War, in which Israel took over the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, The West Bank and the Golan Heights. The battles continue to go on, in the meantime Nadia (Yasmine Al Massri) tires of being raped by her father-in-law and runs away, becoming an alcoholic belly dancer and befriending a suicide bomber in jail after she gets into an altercation in a bus.
Nadia has a young daughter, Miral, who her husband mostly cares for because of Nadia’s instability. Nadia kills herself when Miral is still a girl, and the father takes her to the school to get an education.
Miral grows up to be Frieda Pinto – beautiful, smart, impetuous and rebellious. Despite the warnings of her headmistress, her father and her family, she falls in with some terrorist types who want to get the Palestinian land back. Frankly, though it is not fair to say this, Pinto is just too attractive for the role. She sometimes comes off as Terrorist Barbie. It doesn’t help that Pinto is saddled with scenes where her character does not appear to be so much motivated by political passion as she is petulance, disrespect and pigheadedness.
I have no doubt whatsoever that Mr. Schnabel – whose wife is Palestinian and inspired him to take on this subject matter – feels that Miral is an important work of art. Oddly, I’d guess he also looks at it as a piece of celluloid diplomacy – a Jewish director filming what is essentially a Palestinian story. In real life, Schnabel is living proof that these differences can be overcome. Sadly, his movie is not so convincing on the subject.
Unfortunately, the always-interesting director has through time necessity either cut Rula Jebreal’s source novel too close to the bone or perhaps was simply too close to the material, for he didn’t notice how flimsy some of the story is rendered. Too much is happening over too much time and little of it is properly explored or thought out.
Schnabel also seems to feel the need as a Jewish director not to seem to be playing favorites, so he goes too far in the other direction, making the Israelis (with the exception of one woman, played by the director’s daughter Stella) generic bad guys and refusing to even air the Israeli side of things. Schnabel might say that those views belong to another story – and he may even be right about that – but that does not stop Miral from feeling one-sided, so much so that the finishing dedication that this film was made for the people on both sides who still hope for peace seems just a little disingenuous.
Still, the movie is beautifully filmed and mostly very well acted. I find it hard to believe Schnabel will ever make an ordinary film, but Miral is as undistinguished a piece of work as one of his films has been so far.
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 12, 2011.