Inspired by the life of Palestinian-born, Western-based TV journalist Rula Jebreal, who penned the 2004 book and the screenplay, “Miral” is very much an artistic collaboration between the writer and Schnabel, a Jewish-American. The film is permeated by an American liberal sensibility and an urgency to acquaint viewers with the reality of Middle East conflict seen through Palestinian eyes. Here, the key words are “education” and “tolerance” as well as a need to defeat fanaticism on both sides.
The story begins when the narrator asserts, “I was born in 1973, but my story really begins in 1947,” the year the state of Israel was declared, and the film starts back then during a Christmas party hosted by Vanessa Redgrave for Jerusalem’s liberal international community.
Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass), a wealthy young woman who discovers a group of orphan kids abandoned in the street in bombed-out Jerusalem. She takes them in and sets up a school to educate them.is shortly to open the doors of her family home to 55 orphans, left homeless by the war. Hind is convinced that the Palestinian women of tomorrow need a solid education, and her orphanage, Dar El-Tifl, becomes a school and haven for these girls, whose ranks soon swell to the hundreds. This school rapidly grows until it has up to 2000 pupils. One of these – in the mid Seventies – is Miral, a doe-eyed girl with a troubled and tragic family background. Miral (played as a young adult by Freida Pinto) is a 17-year-old at the time of the first intifada and is inexorably drawn into the struggle against the Israelis.Nadia (Yasmine Al Massri) is introduced as a teenager being raped by her father as her little sister looks on in terror. Running away from home, she becomes a belly-dancer and descends into alcoholism before a silly incident on a bus gets her thrown in prison. The short rape scene, and her unhappy career as a belly dancer summed up in a single painful shot of her gyrating waist are gems of understated filmmaking, the sort of banal tragedy that rings very true. Nadia’s sad-eyed cellmate is Fatima (Ruba Blal), a nurse-turned-terrorist, who has received three life sentences for putting a bomb in a theater. This is the closest the film ever gets to condemning terrorism, and a montage of faces of the innocent audience members intently watching Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” as the bomb ticks away is one of the film’s most harrowing scenes.
Directed by Julian Schnabel; written by Rula Jebreal, based on her novel; director of photography, Eric Gautier; edited by Juliette Welfling; production design by Yoel Herzberg; produced by Jon Kilik; released by the Weinstein Company. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes.
WITH: Hiam Abbass (Hind Husseini), Freida Pinto (Miral), Alexander Siddig (Jamal), Omar Metwally (Hani), Yasmine Al Massri (Nadia), Ruba Blal (Fatima), Willem Dafoe (Eddie), Vanessa Redgrave (Berta) and Stella Schnabel (Lisa).