A story about the Palestinian and Israeli conflict is an epic one to take on. Somewhat sensibly, perhaps, Miral was written as a multi-generational bunch of short stories woven together into one tapestry. Unfortunately, some of these stories are haphazardly spliced together and others flow seamlessly. If we wanted cohesion, we looked for the wrong movie.
Miral is the story of Hind (Hiam Abbass), a monetarily sound woman who opens a school for Palestinian refugees. Miral is also the story of Nadia (Yasmine Elmasri), an emotionally unstable mother, who was raped as a young girl and who fell into an unfulfilling marriage after finding herself very much alone. Miral is the story of an anarchist, a school marm, and her relationship with a student named Miral (Freida Pinto), a father who is only a father in name, and two disorganized governments unwilling to compromise. Miral is about a mess, but it didn’t have to be a mess. It is.
Miral is disorganized not because it tries to tell too many stories at once, although that may play a small part. Miral is disorganized because it cannot decide what crusade to fight and what characters matter. Even when the film does manage to tug at emotional heartstrings, it only manages for a moment before it becomes more of a lecture, or before the film cuts elsewhere. Cobbling together this haphazard timeline are newsreels peppering the screen with ardent speeches, soldiers marching, and even various instances of violence. The point is to provide historical focal points highlighting aspects of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, but it doesn’t work.
Perhaps we’ve come to expect more from Julian Schnabel, whose The Diving Bell and the Butterfly managed to capture us in all its quirks. Unlike The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which boils one great theme into many small moments, Miral’s many small moments lead down multiple pathways and toward too many disagreeing answers. It’s a problem that could have been fixed by editing the storyline and the film’s personalities, but as they all stand, they leave the movie as disappointing as Nadia’s marriage.
Then we have the character of Miral, who has a young schoolgirl attitude for love but a fervor for Palestinian patriotism that is admirable as much as it is foolish. Julian Schnabel does well with Miral, who manages to dominate the latter half of the film, even though she hides in the wings during the first act.
The fervor that Miral builds up is a breath of fresh air in a film that tries to take on too much. If Schnabel had managed to make Miral’s relationship with her school as important as the relationship with her cause, we might have found a more captivating movie. Instead, Schnabel focuses on a lot of faltering and falling apart. There is little light to be found in the horrific conflict he portrays. This is not to say there is no valor in bringing conflict to the forefront in art -- especially, perhaps, in discussing conflict that is less apparent in art than in the news. The Arab sob story is a sad one, but it still needs to be told properly to be affecting. In its final moments, there is hope for young Miral, the continuing work of a refugee school, and maybe even two arguing governments. It comes too little, too late.
The only other Weinstein Co. film I’ve ever reviewed was The King’s Speech, which was fairly exceptional. I was interested to see how the company would treat a non-Academy Award nominee or winner, and I was more un-awed than disappointed. The features are basic: commentary with Julian Schnabel and producer Jon Kilik, deleted scenes, a “Making Of” segment, etc., but they are mostly well-executed.
The “Making Of” segment delves into how Julian Schnabel became interested in the project. Miral is based on the real-life autobiography of Rula Jebreal, who is pretty interesting. However, Jebreal speaking with Pinto is jarring, mostly because the two could be twins.
The one segment that is wildly off-base is “Julian Schnabel Studio Tour” where we spend multiple minutes listening to the director self-promote some silly-looking art he made. Don’t waste your time, it’s only loosely connected to the movie. He does kind of correlate art to storytelling by mentioning how the music is such an important storytelling device in Miral. Honestly, though, the music was the most pandering-toward-sadness-in-inopportune-moments part of the film.
The Weinstein Co. loves Q&As, and in true form one from the Chicago Palestine Film Festival is included. It’s pretty arduous, and for some reason it’s in black and white. Definitely upping the pretentious quota.