By Gary Murray
Starring Freida Pinto, Hiam Abbass, Omar Metwally, Lynn Redgrave and Williem Dafoe
Written by Rula Jebreal based on her book
Directed by Julian Schnabel
Running time 113 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Cable
Julian Schnabel made one of the most interesting films a few seasons back with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, an art house flick that gave a very personal first person view of a man suffering a major catastrophe. He is also the force behind the highly praised Before Night Falls and Basquiat. His latest takes on the Israeli Palestine conflict and how it affects different women. It is based on a true story and is called Miral.
The story starts in 1948 at the Arab Israeli War, where Israel is given the land that includes the West Bank et al. Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass) sees all the parentless children in Jerusalem and decides to open an orphanage which soon blooms with hundreds of kids.
One of her kids is Miral (Freida Pinto), not a true orphan but a Palestine child who has a single Muslin father who wants her protected. Now seventeen, Miral has to go and teach at a refugee camp. There she meets Hani, (Omar Metwally) who is a PLO supporting political activist. Through Hani, Miral gets dragged into the First Intifada, another blow in this ancient battle. It also becomes a personal battle for Miral between her beliefs and the reality of a seemingly unviable war.
Director Julian Schnabel is all over the place with Miral. At times he captures the emotional tenseness of the situation but other times he lets camera tricks overpower the image. He uses the unfocused camera and weird tilted angles to an irritating degree. There are unframed moments and obscure close-ups. The elements that worked so well in his other films just never jell in Miral.
He has two major actors—Lynn Redgrave and Williem Dafoe—in minor roles. Neither gives a performance that lives up to their stature. It almost feels like stunt casting.
But on the plus side, young Freida Pinto shows that her turn in Slumdog Millionaire was no fluke. She plays the wide-eyed innocent who is thrust into the harsh world, having to carve out a personal compromise to different ideas. This is the kind of role that is remembered come award season.
Hiam Abbass is another great find in Miral. As the stoic defender of education, she is the true hero of the piece. She dedicated her life to protecting the Palestine children, knowing that an educated person can win both the hearts and minds of any foe. Her idea of staying out of the political struggle shows a greater degree of grit than those who bomb innocents in movie houses.
There are always at least two sides to every story. Miral is just a single point of view in an age old conflict. It has a very one-sided political milieu which is another ding against the film, wearing politics on its sleeve. The major problems with the movie are that the story told is a bit boring and dull. It just doesn’t work either as an entertainment or a convincing argument. Some will just worship the ‘in your face’ politics of Miral but I found the entire movie a bit trite.