Miral Directed by: Julian Schnabel Cast: Freida Pinto, Hiam Abbass, Alexander Siddig Running Time: 1 hr 55 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: April 15, 2011 (Chicago)
PLOT: After discovering fifty-five orphans in the streets of a tumultuous East Jerusalem, a young woman named Hind opens up a facility to take care of many Palestinian children, while teaching them the ways of peace. Years later, a young girl named Miral (Pinto) is sent to the school by her father, Jamal (Siddig). Miral begins to question the political chaos surrounding her when she encounters violence in her work at refugee camps and during her daily life.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Fans of movies that cover hot topics in international politics, not so much those who gravitate towards biopics. The movie was purposely rated PG-13 to appeal to younger adults, but they'll find this movie pretty boring.
EXPECTATIONS: Some controversy about some possible bias in the telling of Israeli/Palestinian history had me interested, but I was more curious just to see what Schnabel's follow-up to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly would be like.
Freida Pinto as Miral: The Slumdog Millionaire star is slightly passable in this demanding role that is met with naive melodramatics and a few moments of general emotional cheesiness. Most of all, this character's flaws lay at the center's of this movie's problem. She is a difficult character in that we do not immediately attach ourselves to her because of what she stands for. When she suffers for her "bravery" by not talking about her relationships with a suspect, we only wince at the physical discomfort, and not at what such acts are doing to this person. Score: 4
Hiam Abbass as Hind: The movie is aware of how remarkable Hind's life is, yet it doesn't give her the proper focus. Miral teases the audience with this concept as Hind's backstory takes up what feels like a large chunk of the film, and fills it with moments that feel important but are probably not (with scenes that include appearances from Vanessa Redgrave and Willem Dafoe). Hind opens an orphanage that takes cares of girls just like Miral, and also attempts to instill in them peaceful ways, despite their bubble community being surrounded by a society susceptible to violence. Throughout the film, in what small parts she is given as the movie moves towards the student instead of the teacher, Abbass plays this her part with striking grace. Score: 6
Alexander Siddig as Jamal: His eyes hardly blink, yet this intense father still has a vulnerable core to him. Siddig does a commendable job at playing a father trying to keep Miral in line, especially with his awareness of how out of control political rebelliousness can become. Score: 5
TALKING: Heavy-handed messages are not Miral's game. It does come with some wisdom, as delivered from the wise characters played by Siddiq and Abbass. Some of Miral's dialogue is clunky, especially when she is interacting with her radical boyfriend. Score: 5
SIGHTS: The director behind The Diving Bell and the Butterfly continues to offer a wild visual experience with Miral. The film stock (the tinting of the image) always seems to vary, and the usage of handheld cameras is random. No angle is unusable for Schnabel, who even uses a children’s point of view in a particular scene to bring the audience into the moment. Despite this effort, the cinematography for Miral is more significant for the different ways it wants to create a style, than for any particularly memorable shot or moment in framing. Score: 6
SOUNDS: The Miral soundtrack features a handful of names recognizable to the film score world – A.R Rahman, Ennio Morricone, and even Tom Waits. While music does not have an extremely predominant part in the film, it does feature a weeping synthesized (it sounds like it, at least) string motif that’s given occasional use in the film, and provides Miral with a little piece of music to be remembered by. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: Hind's introduction, which takes up about thirty minutes of the film, offers Miral the most humanity, and also its most interesting character.
ENDING: Tom Waits' "Down There By The Train" plays during the credits, as Miral then states that it is “Dedicated to those who believe peace is possible.”
QUESTIONS: What exactly was Schnabel trying to prove with this one? No one looks good here. Perhaps Miral was falling apart even during the filming process, especially with such difficult material. And why not focus this movie on Hind?
REWATCHABILITY: The first viewing of Miral can be pretty a sluggish, nevermind how a second viewing must feel like.
Thank you, Julian Schnabel, for reminding us of how messed up things are concerning Israel and Palestine. Unfortunately, you forgot to give us an important person to believe in. Miral has a strange way of making its case for peace. Its lead character is disagreeable, and her two sources of wisdom are pitiful more than anything else. No one looks good here. No side sounds more right than the others. The only fitting option to choose is middle of the road, “meh”-level neutrality.
As for pacing, Miral is the kind of film that never feels like it reaches a definitive climax. It just moves on and on, from one person to the next. While there isn’t a resolution in real life to the terrible quarrels of Israel and Palestine, that doesn’t mean that Miral is meant to wander hopelessly itself. That, or Schnabel is using structural symbolism that harms the simple ability to enjoy of his film.
Miral doesn’t share its attention with just the aforementioned Hind and Miral. It also takes time to explain the backstory of Nadia and Fatima. Nadia is a woman who meets Fatima in jail, and Fatima is Miral’s mother. The film’s attempts at working with a multi-character study is too ambitious, and leads to lack of focus that makes believing in Miral even more arduous.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10