Fri 1 Apr 2011
For those of you who think subtitles automatically mean you shouldn’t see this film, keep in mind that most of “Miral” is presented in English, with only certain scenes involving the dreaded task of reading in a movie theater (oh, the horror).
Of course, whether you should see the film in the first place is an entirely different question and I suppose it depends on your investment in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The film is based on the autobiographical book of the same name by journalist Rula Jebreal. It’s the story of a girl (Miral, played in her young adult years by Freida Pinto) who is sent to an orphanage/school at the age of 5 and must grow up with the tensions and war that surround Jerusalem and the region following the creation of the Israeli state.
The intention is to make this a film about Miral, for us to view the world through her eyes. In reading the production notes, Schnabel says it was not his interest to make a political statement or to take sides in what is clearly a Palestinian point of view, this is Jebreal’s story. Of course, like with any discussion or examination of these issues, there are those who will take what they want from the story but my biggest concern is whether it’s effective as a film.
Sadly, in trying to encompass so much of Jebreal’s book (she also wrote the screenplay), Schnabel didn’t do enough editing in order to focus the project. The film begins as a history lesson, telling us some of the key events since the creation of Israel in 1948. We are introduced to Hind Husseini, who would go on to create the Dar Al-Tifel Institute where Miral will eventually be taught, and become a surrogate mother to the young girl. We then get a brief explanation of Miral’s biological mother, Nadia, and the manner in which she came to be married to Jamal (Alexander Siddig). In the last half of the film, we see how all of this history has led to Miral’s viewpoint on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it’s a fairly standard bio-pic from that point on.
Or so it would be if there was one central character. Husseini’s involvement is made the central tie to things and between the attention paid to her and Abbass’ excellent performance, it was almost hard to tell at the end of the film whether this had been about Miral or Hind.
Another key problem is the absolutely distracting camerawork and unnecessary visual flourishes. While I’m fine with handheld cameras, this isn’t some independent film made ad-hoc. Many, if not most, scenes could have been done with a steadi-cam or tripod, which would only emphasize the scenes where going handheld makes more sense. Also, Schnabel employed a filter where he blurred the outside edges of certain scenes because they were meant to come from a certain point of view but it feels gimmicky and forced rather than something organic or necessary.
The bottom line is that I never came to really care what happened to Miral, as the shift to her character comes far too late in a production so solidly built around Husseini’s struggles to create a safe haven for children displaced by the fighting in the region. I can only give “Miral” a 3 out of 5 because while I appreciated seeing a Palestinian perspective and it’s an amazing story, the end product never connected with me and for a film concerned with making this story personal and tangible, that’s a problem I can’t overlook.