"Miral" is a film of many themes, characters, and stories, though it desires to be a singular vision of history. Chaotically arranged by director Julian Schnabel, the film is an uninvolving mess, though a thoughtfully composed jumble of emotions and time periods ambitiously reaching for a distressing screen poeticism it never achieves.
While a portrait of several Palestinian women trapped in a web of political events during the formation of Israel, the story is primarily focused on Miral (Frieda Pinto, "Slumdog Millionaire"), a young girl raised in the Dar Al-Tifel orphanage by Hind al-Husseini (Hiam Abbass), a steadfast educator looking to summon a sense of hope in the nation's female population. Miral grows into a defiant woman, looking to join the emerging Palestinian resistance, finding herself caught up with men involved in terrorism, sucked into a cycle of violence and painful self-discovery. Looking to forge her own identity in a grueling land, Miral is urged to make a choice between her patriotism and the fragility of her own future.
"Miral" is based on a true story, adapted from the novel by author Rula Jebreal, who also scripts this winding tale. Avoiding a straight bio-pic course of a damaged girl maturing into a complicated woman, Jebreal endeavors to coil through the smashed lives of several characters on a path towards Miral, illustrating a larger sense of frustration and desperation as these lives are caught up in an ongoing dispute that's ravaged and divided a land. The effort is determined, but not endowed with a strong dramatic foundation, leading to a narrative that often breaks down, chasing tangents that make a modest point but fail to charge the overall viewing experience. The fragmentation wears thins with shocking speed, refusing the viewer a substantial emotional entry point that would create the poignancy both Schnabel and Jeabreal (his real-life girlfriend) are obviously aching to convey.
Once the story settles in with Miral, the film surprisingly doesn't gain any traction, instead wallowing inside an inert tale of political drive mixed with tepid domestic strife. Schnabel employs his typical visual flair, with wandering camerawork aiming to capture the unrest in play, but the artifice grows into a distraction, especially when "Miral" can't strike a note of interest. Performances wilt under Schnabel's clumsy leadership, with most of the gifted performers rendered stiff and wholly unconvincing, despite a passionate script encountering vivid acts of violence, repression, and threat. Pinto suffers the worst simply because Miral isn't a compelling character, presented here as an outline, not someone of flesh and blood. The character's political passions and innate humanity are distorted by Schnabel's slack direction, removing the primal force of cultural dissatisfaction she appears to represent.
"Miral" isn't nearly as challenging as it assumes it is. While I give credit to the filmmakers for handling the Palestinian perspective with some restraint, it's lost in a stunningly monotonous, shapeless motion picture, more enamored with its decorative presentation than the critical Middle East perspective it contains.
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