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Miral - Review

Freida Pinto in Miral

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

JULIAN Schnabel’s adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Rula Jebreal, based on her own first-hand experience of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is a fascinating but ultimately flawed movie that has to rate as an artistic failure in spite of its well meaning.

Chronicling the period from the foundation of the state of Israel to the failure of the Oslo talks in 1993, it’s a complex, sprawling piece of cinema that unfolds from the perspectives of three women – although, most notably, Frieda Pinto’s Miral and Hiam Abass’ Hind Husseini.

In doing so, it struggles to gain any real momentum, feeling fractured, episodic, a little too eager to please and lacking focus – a failing not helped by Schnabel’s shooting style, which worked on the more intimate The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, but which comes up short here.

His film begins as Abass’ Husseini discovers a group of orphans and immediately takes them in… an act of kindness that would come to mark her life’s work. In the ensuing years, Husseini offers asylum, education and protection to thousands of children and becomes one of the most revered and respected in the region.

Placed into her charge, meanwhile, is Miral (Pinto), who finds herself torn between the teachings of Husseini and her father Jamal (Alexander Siddig), and those of the more extreme Hani (Omar Metwally), whose words and views threaten to lead her into a more radical destiny.

Admittedly, given the complexity of the ongoing issues and the fact that many of the proceedings here are autobiographical, there is a poignancy and pertinence about the film that’s difficult to ignore – especially given Schnabel’s own Jewish upbringing.

But while some have accused the film of being one-sided, and others of it being naive, the biggest problem stems from the well meaning intentions of the creative minds involved. It lacks a really authoritative edge, thereby leaving a few too many questions unanswered by virtue of how much is being crammed in.

The story of Husseini, for instance, demands a film in its own right and is marked by a typically powerful performance from Abass. But, crucially, the film suffers whenever she is absent, with Pinto lacking the gravitas to really carry the emotional burden of the story (despite bearing an uncanny physical resemblance to author Jebreal).

Schnabel’s use of some starry supporting actors, such as Willem Dafoe and Vanessa Redgrave, doesn’t really add anything and feels like showboating, while his tone is a little heavy-handed at times.

And while his use of location and eye for detail is as acute as we’ve come to expect (he gained access to many of the real life places where the incidents took place), his attempts to shoehorn so much in deprives the film of any real lasting emotional resonance , which feels like a tremendous waste.

Indeed, one of the most significant moments in the film’s historical timeline lacks the emotional clout it truly warrants and that feels like more of a damning a verdict than some of the unfair accusations surrounding the film’s politics.

Miral is therefore a difficult film about a difficult subject that is too over-burdened by its own troubles to really do justice to the issue or people it examines.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 112mins
UK Release Date: December 3, 2010