Movie Review - Miral

Freida Pinto as "Miral"
Typically a movie that got as many bad reviews as this one is a movie that I would avoid. Rotten Tomatoes had it at only 16 %. That's a horrible rating, but Julian Schnabel directed this movie. Schnabel received an Oscar nomination for his last movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), which has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 93 %. I was curious as to how Schnabel could fall so far from his last motion picture.
Miral is about a young, Palestinian girl who lives in Jerusalem prior to the Oslo Accords in 1993, which gave a lot of recognition and power to the Palestinians, easing their aggression against the Israelis. Leading up to the Accords, Miral becomes involved with terrorists who bad mouth Israelis in the West Bank and set off car bombs to express that. This is only half the movie. The other half, the first half of the film, pivots on three people who become responsible for Miral.
Hind Husseini, a middle-aged, Palestinian woman, played by Hiam Abbas (Paradise Now and The Visitor), starts an orphanage following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. The Arab League, formed after World War II, attacked Israel, but Israel ended up occupying land owned by Palestinians, causing many refugees, casualties and orphans.
Nadia, a young, Palestinian woman, played by Yasmine Al Masri, becomes pregnant after a rape. Nadia gives birth but goes to prison for assault. She's released but never feels right about herself or men ever again.
Jamal, a devout and gentle Muslim man, played by Alexander Siddig (Cairo Time and Syriana) adopts Nadia's child, a daughter named Miral. Jamal is resigned to raise her but knows that he can't do it alone. He decides to take Miral to Hind's orphanage, which has become a type of boarding school.
Miral, played by Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), eventually grows up to be a young, Palestinian woman who through another young Palestinian and in many ways through love is pulled into her country's politics in the late 1980s. She's not pulled as much as she sees the refugees and the deaths, and feels compelled to do something.
Schnabel was recently on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher where he addressed the critics who disliked his movie for limiting the story to the point-of-view of the Palestinians, specifically this one Palestinian girl. The point-of-view portrays the Israelis as occupiers, and as villains, building sympathy for those who would sympathize with the subsequent terrorism against them. Critics didn't seem to appreciate the value of this one point-of-view.
If you watched Schnabel's Diving Bell, then you should know that limiting point-of-view or putting viewers into a point-of-view that they might not like isn't something that's new for him. For example, Schnabel literally put viewers into the point-of-view of a completely paralyzed man, unable to walk or talk or move any body part aside from his eye.
Some critics objected to the writing of Miral and the way that the characters play out, playing out in ways that perhaps weren't fully developed. In this regard, I'm apt to agree. Yet, Schnabel adapted this story from Rula Jebreal's book, which I assume is slightly autobiographical or based on actual experiences that Jebreal actually had.
Movies that do tell the lives of real people or depict reality but in a fictionalized form will often have writing flaws or incomplete pictures. While I would agree that the first third of more of this movie does feel like a series of vignettes that could seemingly be disconnected until we get to the narrative of Miral involving herself with men like Hani, played by Omar Metwally (Munich and Rendition) or Ali, played by Shredy Jabarin, who show us how one side reacts to the Israelis, I would say that that worked for me. Yet, there are people like Jamal and Miral's cousin, Samir, who have more peaceful and loving perspectives, which do offer some other points of view.
Critics have objected to the way Schnabel directed this movie. Schnabel was a painter, a great visual artist. I don't think he broke any new ground here or did anything unique or outstanding as in Diving Bell. His style is loose and handheld with flourishes that others might find annoying. Given the vignette or episodic nature, Schnabel's cinematography gives his scenes an emotional weight and immediacy that worked for me. There is a power here that Schnabel would have you feel, most times it's desperation, exasperation, or plain anxiety, but you do feel it.
Picking up from his Diving Bell experience, Schnabel delivers some interesting p.o.v. shots. He throws in interesting images as well like a closeup of the midriff of a vibrating belly dancer. The camera at one point even drowns simulating the drowning of a character. It's more than just placing the camera in the water and watching it sink. It's deliberate and immersive. Schnabel's camera is always moving. The camera is in fact constantly walking or being swung around. Some might argue with little grace but there seems purpose to it.
There is also some historical context, but not enough to make Miral anything more than a coming-of-age tale. It still stands as a testament of how similar Palestinians are to anyone in an occupied country, which is something most Americans won't understand, but I think that Schnabel's film helps us to get there.
Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some violent content like a sexual assault.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.


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