Miral, an ode to tolerance
by Camillo de Marco
02/09/2010 - If there is something enviable about the North Americans it is their courage to throw themselves into adventures without asking too many questions. For many, it is their limitation. New York-born painter-turned-director Julian Schnabel, whose aggressive and vigorous brushstrokes have fetched up to $800,000 per painting, brought us the moving 2007 film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly [trailer](Best Director Award at Cannes), based on Jean-Dominique Bauby’s book. Miral [trailer], selected in competition at Venice, arose from an encounter with Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal, author of the book "Miral". It is a French/Israeli/Italian/Indian co-production between Pathé, Tarak Ben Ammar’s Eagle Pictures and Take One.
At the post-screening press conference, Schnabel said he felt "the need, as a Jew" to tell the story of this young Palestinian girl from Jerusalem (played by Indian actress Freida Pinto, a rising star since Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire [trailer, film focus]) who is spared the hell of the Arab-Israeli conflict thanks to the protection and education she receives at the orphanage run by Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbas).
With his usual directorial style of oblique shots, handheld camera movements and cinematography heightened by saturated colours, Schnabel steps into the winding streets of tormented Jerusalem in 1948, moving through the years until the failed "Oslo Peace Accords" of 1993.
We see Hind Husseini taking in children off the street who have escaped from the bombs. These 55 orphans will soon become 2,000 and are all lodged in his large house, which is turned into the Al-Tifl Al-Arabi Institute.
Thirty years later, seven-year-old Miral is entrusted to Hind’s care by her father. Having grown up sheltered from the conflict, Miral "discovers" at 17 that she is an Arab with Israeli citizenship. This is the middle of the Intifada and the young woman is drawn into the young Palestinians’ call to arms with their rock-throwing and violent attacks.
Written by Jebreal, the screenplay is passionate but shows inexperience: there is some confusion on a temporal level, too many over-simplifications for an audience unfamiliar with the historical events of that period, so many clichés and the usual illogical transition from Arabic to English (paradoxically, the Palestinians speak to each other in Arabic in the first part of the film and in English with a strong Arab accent after the arrival of protagonist Pinto in the second part).
The aim of the film, dedicated to all those, on both sides, who believe peace is possible, is noble and sincere, a real ode to tolerance, and it shows us that you can teach pacifism while all around is falling apart. But at the same time, the movie clearly takes sides, presenting – with just one symbolic exception – the Israelis as the "bad guys" in the situation. With disarming naivety, the act of terrorism is dispensed with in one simple phrase.
The art of cinema is certainly a political act but the territory of politics in cinema is strewn with mines ready to explode and which can’t be defused with aestheticization. A film calls for and demands greater emotional involvement from viewers.
(Translated from Italian)