Wednesday, April 13, 2011

'Miral' review: Julian Schnabel's direction and Freida Pinto's acting cant bypass passive script

With Frieda Pinto, Willem Dafoe. A Palestinian girl comes of age as conflict increases. Director: Julian Schnabel. (1:54). PG-13: Violence, sexuality. At Lincoln Plaza and the Angelika.

Any film as politically specific as "Miral" needs to be addressed on two levels, as a movie and as, from a certain viewpoint, a polemic. If a viewer can separate one from the other — and some may not — there's an intense, novelistic drama here.

In 1948 Palestine, following the implementing of the UN's two-state solution, social worker Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass) takes in 55 Palestinian orphans displaced by military action. Almost by accident, she starts a girls' orphanage and school.

We then briefly meet Nadia, whose damaged life includes a brief imprisonment. While in jail she meets Jamal (Alexander Siddig), the brother of an inmate. Jamal marries her upon her release, despite Nadia's being pregnant with another man's child. That child, born in 1973, is Miral, placed in Hind's orphanage school at age 5.

At 17, "Miral" (now played by "Slumdog Millionaire's" Frieda Pinto) is challenged by her cousin's relationship with a Jewish girl, while becoming a supporter of the militant Intifida movement. As Miral remains resolute, peace seems possible at the Oslo summit.

Director Julian Schnabel, and cinematographer Eric Gautier imbue the film with distinctive looks: Early glimpses at parties and homecomings prior to 1948 have a sepia-toned calm; scenes in which Miral's mother embodies the unsettled late ‘60s are hazy and smoky. For the early '90s, the film is crisp and attentive, alert to danger. Schnabel, whose "Before Night Falls" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" used similarly exquisite visuals to powerful effect, is master at quickly immersing us in emotions.

Yet Rula Jerebreal's script, adapted from her novel, falters in its final third, when "Miral"'s political awakening — which looked to become a tragic distillation of the lives that lead to it — turns oddly passive. The film seeks to humanize a seemingly unwinnable conflict, and it succeeds at that. But stepping back sadly weakens its story as well as its politics. (Source)

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