Venice Day Two: Schnabel's Miral is Heartfelt, Political Palestinian Drama

by Anne Thompson
September 2, 2010 11:06 AM
4 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
While Julian Schnabel's Miral packs an emotional punch, he tells the wrong story. I was in tears during both of the film's bookend sections, which focus on real-life Hind Husseini (the great Hiam Abbass), a wealthy Palestinian woman who in 1948 takes it upon herself to feed, clothe, educate and house thousands of orphans left abandoned and destitute by the ongoing wars and strife in Jerusalem. Her sense of obligation and personal sacrifice moved me. She and American Willem Dafoe share feelings, but can never get together; as she tells him: "I have 2000 daughters." While Husseini remains a character in the drama, the screenplay, adapted by Palestinian/Italian broadcaster Rula Jebreal from her semi-autobiographical novel, focuses on Miral (Indian actress Freida Pinto), a young girl born in 1973 whose widower father (Alexander Sidding) brings her to the orphanage to live during the week.

Post-1967, while older Palestinians try to steer clear of brooking any trouble with the occupying Israelis, Miral and her generation grow more militant, as they watch the Israelis tear down their homes to build their own. The harshness of the Israeli occupation --and continued mutual hatred and distrust--make the rise of the Intifada, which Miral joins, inevitable. She is arrested at 17, brutally caned and released after 24 hours. The movie ends in 1994, a year after the signing of the Oslo Middle East Peace Accord creating two separate states, which the film points out, has still never been honored. Miral goes on to become, like Jebreal, a reputable journalist working in Italy.

Clearly, Schnabel was stirred by this book to bring it to the screen, but Slumdog Millionaire star Pinto, while gorgeous, is not an expressive actress. (She likely helped to raise funding for the film produced by Jon Kilik with financing from Israel, Italy, India and France, which The Weinstein Co. will release stateside.) Her story remains expositional and flat, filled with long debates with her boyfriend Hani (Omar Metwally) about alternative routes to a Middle East solution. "What they really want is all of Palestine without Palestinians," says Hani. "With them here there is no future for us."

This kind of earnest agit-prop material is tough to adapt to the screen; Schnabel needed a more proficient dramatist to pull this off. He's an elegant, visual director--he and cinematographer Eric Gautier adopt an unusual blurry technique for the more intense scenes--but this movie, while filmed on authentic Jerusalem locations, too often devolves into dull talking heads. It's possible that the Weinsteins will fan flames of controversy around this film's highly-charged subject. Nonetheless Miral--which will also play Telluride and Toronto-- will likely remain within a narrow art-house niche.

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4 Comments

  • Susan | October 13, 2010 10:25 AMReply

    I live in L.A. and I am told by a Hollywood insider that there is an organized strategy fueling negative reviews of Miral. Since the subject matter can hardly be suppressed, if it does in fact receive U.S. distribution, the m.o. is to attack the film's artistry itself in order to keep it out of Oscar contention and “within a narrow art-house niche” (as self-proclaimed critic Guy Lodge from In Contention puts it), thus minimising its exposure among Americans. Since accusations of ‘anti-semitism’ would be laughed away in this instance, anyone willing to call him/herself a critic is encouraged to find fault wherever they can (Lodge also quibbles over the decision to use a Tom Waits song in the film). Individually, none of these ‘faults’ will hold much water, but when taken together, the public will be encouraged to believe them along with the narrative that, miraculously, this is the only of Schnabel’s films to fall short.

  • H | September 11, 2010 2:39 AMReply

    I saw this movie and it was terrible. I felt like I was watching a film produced by the PLO propoganda office. This would have been fine if the film was at least entertaining. One of the worst movies I've ever seen.

  • Classical Music Lover | September 3, 2010 1:48 AMReply

    How wonderful that you were so moved by this propaganda, however beautifully made. Are you also moved by the sight of murdered Israelis, the innocent victims of constant, genocidal terrorism by these disgusting murderers?

    20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs, both Christian and Muslim. But the Arab authorities insist that all Jews must be ethnically cleansed from anywhere that they control. Are you aware that four innocent people, a couple with six children, a nursery school teacher who was nine months pregnant, and a newlywed were summarily murdered in Israel the other day. These brave terrorists caused an accident by shooting at the car, and then, when the occupants were helpless, walked up to them and shot each of them in the head. What sort of human being looks a pregnant woman in the eye and shoots her?

    I would suggest that in the future you save your sympathy for the real victims.

  • Emmanuelle | September 2, 2010 12:36 PMReply

    Actually freida pinto's acting was really good.I Just watched it in venice.

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