×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Miral

Julian Schnabel's signature style feels misapplied to this sweeping multigenerational saga.

With:
Hind Husseini - Hiam Abbass Miral - Freida Pinto Nadia - Yasmine Al Massri Fatima - Ruba Blal Jamal - Alexander Siddig Hani - Omar Metwally

While any film addressing the Israeli-Palestinian divide can expect a measure of controversy, few hearts or minds are likely to be stirred by Julian Schnabel’s inoffensive, well-intentioned “Miral.” Schnabel’s signature blend of splintered storytelling and sobering humanism feels misapplied to this sweeping multigenerational saga of four Arab women living under Israeli occupation, the youngest of which, Miral, emerges a bland totem of hope rather than a compelling movie subject. A year-end Stateside release date will raise expectations unlikely to be borne out by either passionate critical response or sustained arthouse biz.

Set to open this month in Europe, “Miral” will go out in the U.S. Dec. 3 through the Weinstein Co., making it the rare film to favor a Palestinian p.o.v. and also be presented under the auspices of Harvey Weinstein, a vocal supporter of Israel. But while the film doesn’t shy away from portraying everyday Israeli abuses of authority, its approach to the conflict is calculated to offend as little as possible; the predictable, can’t-we-all-just-get-along coda would be easier to swallow were it preceded by a more politically engaged or personally engaging narrative.

Adapted by journalist Rula Jebreal from her own semi-autobiographical novel, the picture is roughly divided into four chapters of varying length. Providing a sturdy anchor is the story of Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass), a compassionate, iron-willed woman living in Jerusalem shortly after the creation of Israel in 1948. Hind turns her home into the Tifl Al-Arabi Institute, a school and orphanage for Palestinian girls, and a stronghold of peace and education in the tumultuous decades that follow.

The film then leaps ahead to the 1960s, shifting its attention to two other women, neither of whom registers as more than a victim in Jebreal’s scenario. Nadia (Yasmine Al Massri), a young runaway racked by alcoholism and sexual abuse, is arrested for punching a Jewish woman on a bus. In prison, she meets Fatima (Ruba Blal), a former nurse handed three life sentences for attempting to detonate a bomb in a movie theater (recounted in a tense sequence that makes interesting use of clips from Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion”).

Upon her release, Nadia marries a devout, conspicuously peace-loving Muslim, Jamal (Alexander Siddig), and gives birth to Miral (Yolanda El-Karam), whose story dominates the film’s second half. For reasons not very clearly laid out, Miral is sent to Hind’s orphanage, where she grows up to be a lovely but stubborn, impulsive young woman (Freida Pinto), torn between the will of Jamal and Hind (embodied with characteristic warmth by Siddig and Abbass), who urge her to focus on her studies, and her own radicalist impulses.

Miral’s growing fondness for dangerously handsome PLO activist Hani (Omar Metwally) leads her to a critical choice between pursuing education and the hope of a better life, or going further down the path of violent rebellion. The fact that Miral is named after a kind of red flower (“You’ve probably seen millions of them,” we’re helpfully informed) is meant to underline the story’s broad applicability, but so little feels authentically at stake here, one wishes the filmmakers had sacrificed the universal in favor of something more distinctive.

Schnabel employs his usual jagged, impressionistic style, characterized by handheld camerawork (courtesy of ace lenser Eric Gautier), a variety of lenses and color filters, and a fleet editing style heavy on jump cuts. While this fragmentary approach reinforces the film’s subjectivity and suggests a multitude of other possible angles on the topic, it also feels dramatically unfocused, particularly before Miral takes centerstage. Where each of the artist-helmer’s previous three features (“Basquiat,” “Before Night Falls” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) was focused on one man’s psyche, “Miral” is structured primarily around an issue, and none of its four protags emerges with much of an inner life; at a certain point, the characters begin speaking almost exclusively in soundbites (“These settlers living here are our real cancer,” “There is no future for them without one for us”).

Furthering the didactic feel, the film uses archival footage and onscreen text to recap such pivotal events as the 1967 Six Day War and the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993; the result may be helpful as a primer for mainstream auds but will prove unenlightening for those well versed in Mideast history. Pic feels further compromised by its awkward commercial concessions, such as the use of English as the primary language (despite snippets of Hebrew and Arabic) and the presence of name actors such as Vanessa Redgrave and Willem Dafoe in little more than cameo appearances. Songs by regular Schnabel collaborator Tom Waits, among others, feel especially jarring in this context.

Bound to raise perhaps the most criticism is the casting of Pinto, the Indian actress-model who came to fame in “Slumdog Millionaire,” in the role of an Arab Everygirl — an odd choice for a drama predicated on specifics of cultural identity. While Pinto looks appropriately willful, driven and occasionally fierce as Miral clashes with her loving guardians (and is later whipped in prison for her suspected terrorist involvement), neither she nor the material convincingly demonstrates why, of the countless stories that have been told about the conflict, this one was worth singling out.

Miral

France-Israel-Italy-India

Production: A Weinstein Co. (in North America) release of a Jerome Seydoux presentation, with Pathe, ER Prods., Eagle Pictures, India Take One Prods., with the participation of Canal Plus and Cinecinema, of a Jon Kilik production. (International sales: Pathe Intl., London/Paris.) Produced by Kilik. Executive producer, Francois-Xavier Decraene. Co-producer, Eran Riklis. Directed by Julian Schnabel. Screenplay, Rula Jebreal, based on the novel "Miral" by Jebreal.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, widescreen), Eric Gautier; editor, Juliette Welfling; music supervisor, Schnabel; production designer, Yoel Herzberg; costume designer, Walid Mawed; sound (DTS/Dolby), Ashi Milo, Adam Wolny, Dominique Gaborieau; stunt coordinator, Dima Osmolovsky; line producers, Uzi Karin, Eyal Sadan; assistant director, Sebastian Silva; casting, Yael Aviv. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 2, 2010. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Special Presentations.) Running time: 112 MIN.

With: Hind Husseini - Hiam Abbass Miral - Freida Pinto Nadia - Yasmine Al Massri Fatima - Ruba Blal Jamal - Alexander Siddig Hani - Omar MetwallyWith: Stella Schnabel, Willem Dafoe, Vanessa Redgrave, Yolanda El-Karam. (English, Arabic, Hebrew, French dialogue)

More Film

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Writers Guild Expands Suit Against Agencies With New Fraud Allegations

    The Writers Guild of America has bulked up its lawsuit with additional fraud allegations against Hollywood’s four biggest talent agencies. The WGA amended its suit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court with the claim that CAA, WME, UTA and ICM partners have engaged “constructive fraud” by allegedly placing their own interests ahead of their clients [...]

  • 'Heroes Don't Die' Review: A Peculiar,

    Cannes Film Review: 'Heroes Don't Die'

    Just when you think modern cinema has exploited the found-footage conceit from every conceivable angle, along comes a tragicomic mockumentary tracing Bosnia’s recent war-ravaged history via the travails of a young French film crew getting to the root of a reincarnated identity crisis. Aude Léa Rapin’s first narrative feature “Heroes Don’t Die” is nothing if [...]

  • Mediapro, Complutense, NFTS Team On Screenwriting

    The Mediapro Group Launches Master’s Program at Madrid’s Complutense University

    Madrid-based production hub The Mediapro Studio has announced finalized details of an arrangement with Madrid’s Complutense University (UCM) and the National Film and Television School of London (NFTS) on a new Master’s program designed to develop new screenwriting talent. Mediapro general director Juan Ruiz de Gauna, UCM dean of information sciences Jorge Clemente and Irene [...]

  • Argentina, A New Member of Co-Production

    Argentina Joins European Co-Production Fund Eurimages

    CANNES – Argentina will join the European Council’s co-production fund Eurimages as an associate member starting  on October 1 2019, it was officially announced Monday at the Cannes Film Market. The agreement was unveiled by Ralph Haiek, president of Argentine agency Incaa, Eurimages executive director Roberto Olla and the president of global producers assn. Fiapf, [...]

  • "Black Coal Thin Ice" in Berlin

    Chinese Director Diao Yinan Drills Down on 'The Wild Goose Lake'

    Diao Yinan is the only Chinese director with a film in the main competition this year at Cannes. He’s already a known entity on the arthouse circuit having won the Golden Bear in Berlin in 2014 for his hardscrabble coal-blackened detective thriller “Black Coal, Thin Ice.” Now he makes the leap to the Croisette with [...]

  • Blaise Harrison On Cannes Directors’ Fortnight

    Switzerland’s Blaise Harrison on Directors’ Fortnight Player ‘Particles’

    Swiss filmmaker Blaise Harrison is bringing his fiction feature debut to this year’s Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Known for his documentary work, Harrison was selected for competition at the 2013 Locarno Festival for his film “Harmony,” about a marching band in the small French town of Pontarlier. “Particles” follows P.A., a teenager [...]

  • Constantin Film AG, Feilitzschstrase 6, Muenchen.

    Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz on a New Market Realism (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES  —  2019’s Cannes  hit the floor running. Even after just two days of business, major sales companies were fielding offers from much of the world on top titles. After four days, quite a few were pretty confident they’d sell much of the world. Some of those deals are now being confirmed. Martin Moszkowicz, executive [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content