Director Julian Schnabel tackles yet another biographical tale after his Diving Bell and the Butterfly, with a focus shifted to the Middle East conflict, but unlike the typical Hollywood production ranging from all out action like The Kingdom to heavier dramatic fare like Syriana, this film, an Indian-Italian-French-Israeli co-production stops short at passing judgement, opting to tread the middle ground in portraying as objective a viewpoint as possible, and does so through the eyes of the titular character Miral (Freida Pinto) being caught up in the scheme of her environment.
Curiously, this film is based on the novel by Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian journalist, whose book is an almost biographical account of her growing up and formative years, where she got brought up in an orphanage in Jerusalem established by Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass), whose notable exploits after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War include rescuing orphaned survivors from the Deir Yassin massacre and turning her home into an orphanage. So in essence we get to observe the story of two women caught up in extraordinary circumstances spanning a vast timeline right up to the establishment of the state of Israel and right through to various peace accords that are still trying to bear fruit, and one
The narrative is split into two halves, with the first centered on the tale of Hind Husseini, her sacrifice and achieving of her objective, before having the narrative shift toward that of Miral, clearly the poster girl since Freida Pinto's shot to fame in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire might mean a lot more people giving this film a chance. Brought to Husseini's orphanage to be raised, we see the teenager getting awakened to the state of affairs of the land claimed by opposing sides, and getting caught between a rock and a hard place, where Husseini's counsel gets weighed against that of the brush of romance with the militant Hani (Omar Metwally), but of course don't come to expect flitting romantic scenes as the more powerful and thought provoking ones far outweigh affairs of the heart.
While the film offered two stories of two independently strong women, somehow it is the lack of a primary central figure that did it in, where it's most unfortunate to have the story quite scattered in its ambitious timeline in trying to condense an extremely complex political situation, no doubt adopting a micro view through the two different perspectives and principles in its leading characters. It sought to contrast viewpoints of those who deem education is the key out of their current plight, against those who wish to stand up and be counted, violence notwithstanding as a means to achieve an end.
Perhaps I was anticipating more, but with an ending quite abrupt, it leaves more questions than those answered and addressed, and perhaps so because it's still an open environment with no clear solutions in sight. Like how the characters have seen milestones set in their lifetime, I wonder if we in ours can eventually see something significantly charted out. The end title was a chilling reminder that it will take quite a while.
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