Julian Schnabel tries and fails to boil down fifty years of Middle Eastern history as seen and experienced by a handful of inter-related Palestinians in “Miral,” an ambitious but seriously muddled melodrama.The Oscar-nominated director of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” struggles to make sense of his journalist-girlfriend’s semi-autobiographical novel, which skips back and forth between characters, back and forth from 1947 and the impending creation of Israel, to the 1967 Six Day War, to 1973, 1987 and the Intifada — the Palestinian uprising — of the early 90s.
The film’s Palestinian point of view drew protests from some backers of Israel and attacks from others for its supposed bias. But the real problem here is Rula Jebreal’s script.
The wonderful Hiam Abbass plays Hind Husseini, a social worker who takes in Palestinian orphans displaced by the war that arrived with the birth of Israel. She sees the armed struggle as futile, and settles on an orphanage and its school as her way of making a difference to her people in her corner of the world.
Fatima plants a bomb in a movie theater, Nadia (Yasmine Al Masri) goes to prison and meets Jamal (Alexander Siddig) who marries her. And eventually, she gives birth to Miral (Freida Pinto of “Slumdog Millionaire”), a girl who becomes radicalized during the Intifada.
There’s a rape and a suicide, torture, death and hope for the future, all packed into just under two hours.
Schnabel tints some early scenes in sepia, and finds striking blues to highlight other moments. But color coding doesn’t help decode this meandering tale. It begins with a Christmas Party where Vanessa Redgrave and Willem Dafoe show up and more or less disappear (Dafoe’s military attache returns at other moments).
Schnabel did such wonderful work with the far more narrowly-focused and intimate “Basquiat,” “Before Night Falls” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” that it would be a shame if his deference to his girlfriend’s life experience and writing torpedoed his film career. But somebody needed to take the scissors to this script and he apparently was too enamored of every character, every scene and every incident to do the dirty work himself.
MPAA rating: PG-13 on appeal for thematic material, and some violent content including a sexual assault
Cast: Freida Pinto, Hiam Abbass, Alexander Siddig, Yasmine Al Masri, Willem Dafoe, Vanessa Redgrave
Credits: Directed by Julian Schnabel, written by Rula Jebreal and based on her book. A Weinstein Co. release. Running time: 1:52