Friday, March 13, 2015


Directed by Julian Schnabel and written by Rula Jebreal that is based on her own novel, Miral is the story of a young girl who is raised at an orphanage as she later grows into a woman as she tries to find understanding amidst the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The film is a dramatic account into a young who was raised and taught by Hussein Hind as her attempts to teach Palestinian refugees has her wondering about the realities of the world as the titular character is played by Freida Pinto. Also starring Hiam Abbass, Yasmine Al Masri, Ruba Jebreal, Alexander Siddig, Willem Dafoe, Stella Schnabel, Omar Metwally, and Vanessa Redgrave. Miral is a compelling yet flawed film from Julian Schnabel.

The film is based on Rula Jerbreal’s own accounts as she was raised in the famed Dar Al-Tifel institute that brought in Palestinian girls who didn’t have a home. The film isn’t just about the founding of the institute by Hussein Hind (Hiam Abbass) but also the young girl who would come to this institute as she would be raised and taught by Hind until she encounters the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the First Intifada. It’s a film where the girl named Miral would come of age during that period as she wants to help any Palestinian resistance group in fighting the Israelis but is also torn with the need to continue Hind’s ideas of education and negotiation for a peaceful resolution. The film’s screenplay does have this odd structure where it starts off with how Hind founded the Dar Al-Tifel institute in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War as well as who Miral’s mother was.

The first act begins with Hind’s funeral as it would cut into events preceding the moment she began this institute where it was by accident as she wanted to help out. Even as she gets the help of an American friend named Eddie (Willem Dafoe) who would help her gain some political connections to ensure the safety of her institute. The story then moves into the Six Day War period where it revolves around a woman named Nadia (Yasmine Al Masri) who would spend six months in prison for slapping a woman on the bus as she would marry a man named Jamal (Alexander Siddig) and have a daughter named Miral. Yet, the sense of shame in Nadia’s life would lead to her death as Jamal sends Miral to the institute as he is unable to take care of her though he’s a good father. The film’s second half is about Miral as she copes with not just the realities of what is happening outside of the institute but also the need to fight back against the Israelis in what is a very complicated situation.

While it’s a film that showcases what the Palestinians were going through as Miral would become prejudiced towards Israelis. It’s not an anti-Israeli film but rather a portrait of what a young woman is dealing with as she would involve herself into actions that can be defined as terrorism. The film’s second half has Miral fall for a Palestinian rebel leader named Hani (Omar Metwally) who wants to fight against the Israelis but also wants a peaceful solution as he would steer Miral into ideas that has her hating the Israelis. Yet, her own encounters with the violence as well as other events that complicate things force her to find a way to deal with what she’s learned. Though the script does get clunky in Miral’s development, it does play into the growth that Miral would go into as she tries to maintain the guidance of her mentor.

Julian Schnabel’s direction is quite stylish but only in its look and presentation as he aims for something that is close to a cinema verite style. Especially as he was able to shoot on location in Israel in its many cities like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and other locations near Palestinian states. Much of it would have Schnabel utilize a lot of hand-held cameras and strange camera angles to play into the drama though the film starts and ends with Hussein’s funeral as it indicates how important she was to Miral. Schnabel would go for a lot of simplistic compositions as well as lots of medium shots and close-ups plus a few wide shots. Even as it plays to the sense of chaos that is emerging that Miral would encounter during a scene where she and her schoolmates go to a refugee camp to teach children as they’re forced to watch a house be destroyed.

It’s among these key moments in the film that is quite powerful as it plays into Miral’s development though some of the film’s violent moments are quite minimal as Schnabel would use stock footage and newspaper clippings to help tell the story. Even as he would use these moments to play into certain moments in time as well as the various wars between Israel and Arab nations. All of which would have Miral encounter these events as well as moments that those she is connected with would endure. Even as she would gain some understanding about how peace works and why it’s so hard to achieve. Overall, Schnabel creates a very captivating yet uneven film about a woman coming of age as a Palestinian in Israel.

Cinematographer Eric Gautier does excellent work with the film‘s very colorful cinematography as it features a very vibrant and colorful look to some of the film‘s daytime scenes while going for low-key and naturalistic lights for the scenes set at night. Editor Juliette Welfling does amazing work with the editing as it is very stylized with its approach to jump-cuts, montages, and in the way it uses stock footage to help tell the story. Production designer Yoel Herzberg and art director Nir Alba do brilliant work with the look of the homes that Miral and her father lived in as well as some of the parts of the institute. Costume designer Walid Mawed does nice work with the costumes as it’s mostly straightforward to play in the look of the 1980s for its second half along with stylish clothes for its first half.

Visual effects supervisor Stephane Dittoo does terrific work for some of the film‘s minimal visual effects as it relates to the small violent moments that occur in the film. Sound editor Adam Wolny does superb work with the sound to convey some of the sounds of chaos as well as sparse elements in the film‘s quieter moments. The film’s music by Olivier Daviaud is exquisite for its use of somber strings to play into the sense of tragedy and drama while music supervisors Julian Schnabel, Rebecca Delannet, and Astrid Gomez-Montoya create a soundtrack filled with classical pieces as well as cuts by Pete Townshend, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Ennio Morricone and Gillo Pontecorvo, A.R. Rahman, and Tom Waits.

The casting by Yael Aviv is great is it features notable small roles from Makram Khoury as politician who would help Hind with the founding of the institution, Shredi Jabarin as Miral’s cousin Ali, Stella Schnabel as Ali’s Jewish girlfriend Lisa, Ruba Blal as Nadia’s cellmate who is given three life sentences for a bombing in a movie theater, Yolanda El Karam as the young Miral, and Vanessa Redgrave in a small yet wonderful performance as Bertha Spafford as a party host that Hind would meet early in the film. Willem Dafoe is superb as Eddie Spafford as a U.S. military officer who helps Hind with creating the institute and to ensure that she would be safe. Yasmine Al Masri is terrific as Miral’s mother Nadia as a woman who is shamed and humiliated as she copes with the guilt she carries that would lead to her own death.

Omar Metwally is excellent as Hani as a Palestinian resistance leader who is trying to find ways to deal with the Israelis as well as eventually coming to the realization that peace needs to happen. Alexander Siddig is amazing as Miral’s father Jamal as a man who tries to raise her as he later copes with her rebellion as he tries to steer her in the right path with Hind’s help. Hiam Abbass is incredible as Hussein Hind as a Palestinian woman who created an orphanage and institute to protect young children as she would also be a mentor to Miral to teach her the ways to a peaceful resolution. Finally, there’s Freida Pinto in a remarkable performance as the titular character as a young woman who is awakened by the realities of her surroundings as she struggles to wanting to fight as well as instill Hind’s teachings as it’s a very complex and eerie performance from Pinto.

Despite its uneven and messy narrative, Miral is still a worthwhile film from Julian Schnabel. Armed with a great cast as well as a unique perspective from the Palestinian side in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, it’s a film that isn’t afraid to ask questions but also with wanting to create understanding in a very complicated situation. In the end, Miral is a stellar film from Julian Schnabel.

Julian Schnabel Films: Basquiat - Before Night Falls - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse - At Eternity's Gate - The Auteur #43: Julian Schnabel

© thevoid99 2015


Brittani Burnham said...

I remember wanting to see this when it came out, but it got such awful reviews I just skipped it. Great write up!

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. I would see it if you're interested in what the Palestinians are going through even though I think it's Julian Schnabel's weakest film so far.

Ruth said...

I've been curious about this one, the premise intrigued me and it's great that Schnabel was able to film this on location. I'm not familiar w/ this filmmaker's work yet, so your reviews have been quite informative, Steven, thanks!

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-You're welcome. I already finished my Auteurs piece on Schnabel which will come out later this month as he's definitely an amazing filmmaker.