Meandering narrative and clunky dialogue spoil visually disappointing potted history
Artist Julian Schnabel has made a habit of turning real life subjects into difficult, provocative films. At his best, Schnabel is able to entwine the neo-expressionist aesthetic of his gallery work with cinematic narratives to stunning effect as with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
With Miral, the director just seems confused. Schnabel, a Jew by birth, has made a film based on his Palestinian girlfriend Rula Jebreal’s semi-autobiographical novel and gets lost in the crossfire as he tries to balance arguments and deliver a message that calls for tolerance and understanding. These calls for clemency appear shrill in a film that is packed with clunky dialogue, particularly the spouting of political slogans and expository lines by Arab characters. Coming after the exceptional Diving Bell it’s also visually disappointing.
Schnabel tries to fit too much into the story that spans over half a century of Middle Eastern history. The action revolves around a school for orphans, which is opened by Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbas) after the creation of Israel. In one of the many wildly underwritten parts, Willem Dafoe turns up as a potential love interest. The second half of the film is taken up by the title character Miral (Frieda Pinto), born in 1973, and placed into care by her father (Alexander Siddiq) four years later. Miral grows up wanting to help the Palestinian liberation movement to the consternation of her father. The trouble here is that Schnabel tries to educate as well as entertain, but does neither as he delivers a potted history couched in a confusing and meandering narrative.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 3 Dec. GFT, Glasgow from Mon 27 Dec.