There’s a fascinating story being told in Miral; I’m just not sure Julian Schnabel is the right one to be telling it. Schnabel, who directed one of the best films of the past decade in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, has a penchant for fragmented narratives and frequent (sometimes too frequent) stylistic flourishes.
In The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, he was a perfect fit, with the film’s alienating and idiosyncratic camerawork motivated by protagonist Jean-Dominique Bauby’s condition. Here in Miral, the soft focus and blurred edges of the frame and the lilting camerawork don’t communicate much. Similarly, the disjointed nature of the narrative distracts from what might be the film’s best stuff — its retelling of the true story of Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass), a Palestinian woman who rescued 50 children after the Deir Yassin massacre in 1948 and then founded an orphanage and school for Palestinian children.
The film does some work setting this up, with a beautiful rush of images and a brief, unfulfilling turn from Willem Dafoe as a UN officer. Shortly, it focuses its attention on Miral (Freida Pinto), a girl brought by her father to the orphanage after her mother died.
Miral’s perspective changes when she is 17 and begins to realize the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinian people during the Israeli-Arab conflict and on the cusp of the First Intifada. She falls in love with a Palestinian militant (Omar Metwally), and struggles between the ideals of peace and education Hind has taught her and her own desire for justice.
Part of the reason the film feels so slight is it doesn’t stay adhered to a single narrative path for long, flitting around too frequently, but it’s also problematic that Pinto isn’t really compelling enough once the film does settle onto her.
Based on the autobiographical novel by Rula Jebreal, Miral doesn’t have a major event to tie its main character to, with only a brief stint in jail that marketing materials have overplayed. Rather, it depends on the nuances of the central character, her inner conflict and her feelings of disaffection with the unjust world around her. Unfortunately, Pinto doesn’t do enough to connect us with these emotions.
Miral is wrapped up in the good intentions of giving voice to a marginalized people, but it’s not the persuasive, forceful film I think it sets out to be.
The DVD of the film includes three deleted scenes, a pretty standard 15-minute making-of featurette, a brief tour of Schnabel’s studio space, a 30-minute Q&A after a screening of the film at the Chicago Palestine Film Festival in 2011 and a commentary track with Schnabel and producer Jon Kilik.