Film Review: “Miral”

by Jason LeRoy on April 1, 2011

Freida Pinto in MIRAL. © 2011 - Sony Pictures Classics

starring: Freida Pinto, Hiam Abbass, Alexander Siddig, Omar Metwally, Yasmine Elmasri, Ruba Blal, Willem Dafoe, Vanessa Redgrave

written by: Rula Jebreal

directed by: Julian Schnabel

MPAA: Rated PG-13 on appeal for thematic material, and some violent content including a sexual assault.

Miral is a rare misfire from artist/director Julian Schnabel. After a winning streak of films like Basquiat, Before Night Falls, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Schnabel has finally found a script he can’t save with his rapturous visuals.

The film starts off promisingly with a tapestry of stories about Arab women in Palestine, beginning several years after the end of WWII. We meet Hind Husseini (the marvelous Hiam Abbass), who starts a school for girls to help the ever-growing population of local children who’ve been displaced from their homes and families. We also meet the troubled Fatima (Ruba Blal), and her prison cellmate Nadia (Yasmine Elmasri). Nadia introduces Fatima to her brother, Jamal (Alexander Siddig of Cairo Time); Fatima and Jamal marry, and Miral will be their only daughter.

Although the writing frequently dips into melodrama and is blemished by trite dialogue, this is still by far the most successful portion of the film. Once Miral grows up (and is played by Freida Pinto), the narrative loses nearly all of its steam. Miral attends Hind’s school, where she is frequently warned against political involvement. But she finds herself incapable of ignoring the suffering of her people and gets drawn into the Palestinian resistance, as well as smitten by the dashing resistance leader Hani (Omar Metwally).

As a film about the Arab-Israeli conflict, Miral was bound to be controversial; and, of course, the Weinstein Company (the film’s distributor) has been only too happy to embrace this. As a film told from a Palestinian perspective, it is likely to ruffle a few feathers. But ultimately, there is nothing inflammatory here. If anything, the film is too careful to avoid causing offense. The whole thing feels limp and inconsequential.

Schnabel and his gifted DP, Eric Gautier, have clearly labored to make sure their finished product is visually stunning. But far too often, the film seems to be compensating for a poorly-told story with overly stylized photography. While it can certainly be commended for its visual aesthetic, Miral is well-meaning but unnecessary.

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