Following the picture’s middling fall-fest reception, the Weinstein Co. opted to remove it from the harsh glare of awards season and postpone its originally scheduled Dec. 3 Stateside bow. Having since grossed a little more than $500,000 in various European and Middle Eastern territories, director Julian Schnabel’s decade-spanning, controversy-stirring portrait of Arab sisterhood is now set to open Friday in a U.S.-only re-edited version that clocks in at 106 minutes (including closing credits), though there are only negligible differences between this cut and the 112-minute cut that premiered at Venice and Toronto.
Certainly no attempt has been made to blunt the tale’s pro-Palestinian p.o.v., and depending on their individual frames of reference (or lack thereof), viewers can be expected to applaud, condemn or yawn at “Miral’s” unflattering depiction of Israeli authority, in scenes that coexist uneasily with the film’s closing entreaties for peace and understanding.
And it would take more than a quick trim to address the fundamental flaws at the core of Rula Jebreal’s semiautobiographical saga of three generations of Palestinian women living under Israeli rule. The story remains a muddle of melodramatic gestures, extraneous protagonists and blunt political talking points, and Schnabel’s attempts to compensate stylistically with his trademark smeary, impressionistic visuals feel like auteurist doodles in the margins of an important subject.
The two chief excisions have been made to the picture’s bookending sequences. While it still begins in 1948 Jerusalem, the film no longer includes an early glimpse of a major character’s funeral (this is now reserved for the end, still accompanied by the throaty stylings of Schnabel regular Tom Waits). Also eliminated is the 1993 archival footage of post-Oslo Accords revelry, as the film now forgoes even the fleeting catharsis an uninformed viewer might derive from a peace treaty that has yet to be honored 18 years later.
Despite the odd decision to retain an early Christmas party sequence with Vanessa Redgrave sporting a bizarre yuletide headdress, the film plays out in a marginally more focused, present-tense register, and a second viewing only adds to one’s appreciation for the stirring performances of Hiam Abbass and Alexander Siddig as the chief guardians of Freida Pinto’s beautiful but inexpressive Miral.
Clearly aware of the difficulties of selling weighty topical fare to a U.S. audience, the Weinstein Co. has been diligently courting attention in the press: A lavish March 14 premiere at United Nations headquarters drew protests from various Jewish-American groups, and the distrib lobbied successfully for a PG-13 rating after the film was slapped with an R for a scene containing an unpleasant but not especially graphic sexual assault. (It’s the second such victory in months for TWC, after overturning “Blue Valentine’s” NC-17.) But even the most aggressive campaign can’t endow a movie with a sense of purpose, and in its shorn state, “Miral” remains a picture bereft of intellectual substance, psychological depth or widespread commercial interest.