Wednesday, 15 December 2010


2010. Dir: Julian Schnabel. Starring: Hiam Abbass, Freida Pinto, Omar Metwally, Alexander Siddig and Ruba Blal. ●●●○○

Over the years cinema has been littered with personal filmaking, statements from writers, directors or actors with which they intend to pass on their wisdom and change the way we, as an audience, view the world. On rare occasions these efforts are memorable, often they are risible, but mostly they are worthy but oh so very dull. Unfortunately Miral, the fourth biopic directed by former New York artist Julian Schnabel, falls distinctly into that third category.

The story is essentially about the eponymous Miral (played with monotonous solidity by Freida Pinto of Slumdog fame) and the complexity of her political and emotional journey through the Palestinian Intifida of 1987 onwards. It also concenrs the three women who most shape her life: Her Teacher, the real-life Hind Husseni (Hiam Abbas, fine) whose work and death bookend the movie; her mother (Yasmine Elmasri, the best of the women) an abused Palestinian giurl who sinks into prostitution and alcoholism and her aunt (an underused Ruba Blal) who was radicalised, dynamited an Isreali cinema (during Polanski's Repulison no less) and was subsequently incarcerated following the 7 day war in 1967. Each of these women present different choices that Miral has to make - in the face of the Isreali occupation should she show caring stoicism, desperation or merciless revenge.

The film breaks into chapters for each of the women, ending with Miral, and this episodic structure becomes the movies biggest failing. Each of the first sections seems rushed and incomplete - of course they can only be complete if Miral chooses to follow their example - and the film as a whole seems to lck the focus necessary for Schnabel to make his grand statement.

I suspect, as with Miral, Schnabel and Rula Jebreal the novelist and scriptwriter wish to present Hind Husseni as the ideal. A woman who dedicated her life to educations orphans of the occupation, positive that education is the only way out of poverty and out of repression. Miral Iman father, a superb Alexander Siddig, also believes in the path of passive resistance, sure that there is a way forward through dialogue rather than through the instruments of terrorism.

Perhaps the closest character to the minds of the production team is Omar Metwally as Hani the Hamas activist Miral falls for. Whilst a charismatic on-screen presence Metwally is saddled with some of the most expositional dialogue as to render his performance unnecessary. Two scenes in particulary - a day time picnic and a midnight assignation as meant to be signs of their buidding romance but his earnest monlogues about the future of a two state solution seem horrendously out of place.

There is plenty on the sidelines to enjoy though. You could start with the celebrity cameos; lefties Vanessa Redgrave and Willem Dafoe turn up to secure funding and to bring in a US/Brit audience and not much else...

Seriously, my favourite section was where Miral stayed with her aunt and cousin recouperating from an injury. Her cousin has struck a relationship with a young Jewish girl and the humourous and conflicting reactions from eacdh family is a delight. Especially Miral aunt who turns the Palestinian mother up to 11 (talking fast is Arabic, wearing traditional attire she usually shuns) when her potentially daughter in law comes over for the first time. These comic vignettes could form the basis of a delicious film about inter-religious acceptance and abstract prejudice - but alas we were up for a much more plodding sermon about politics in the Middle East.

Cinematography comes courtesy of Eric Gautier (Motorcycle Diaries, Into the Wild) and you can recognise his lensing style, with many of the more experimental florishes of Schnabel's previous films put aside.

Overall I would say I wanted this film to be so much more than it was. The Palestinian/Isreali conflict deserves a film that truly illuminates the conflict in totality. This filmed failed to do so without it turning into a lecture. That is a very great shame.


TomS said...

I am not familiar with this. I did love "Before Night Falls" but that has been 10 years ago...
I'm enjoying your posts Ben, sorry I have been delinquent in commenting of late....

Runs Like A Gay said...

No worries Tom - I'm the laziest person I know when it comes to commenting so I'm always grateful to hear from you.

Miral was nice enough, and probably worth putting it in your netflix queue eventually but probably nothing more than that.