Anchor Bay // 2010 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // July 12th, 2011
This school is the difference between you and the children in the refugee camp.
First and foremost, Miral is not propaganda, no matter what some reviews of the film would have you believe. I can show you propaganda, dark and evil material that is shockingly persuasive, but this is not that. Miral is more akin to Gillo Pontecorvo's incredible Battle of Algiers than it is to, say, any 1970s East German animation one might come across. Ultimately, I understand a pro-Palestinian film made by a Jewish director from an autobiographical book by Rula Jebreal, his Palestinian partner, is bound to drive opinions to already-established hard and fast views on the situation. If viewers can set those politics aside, however, they will be rewarded a gorgeous film of outward emotion and humanity, one that should be regarded as equal or greater to the rest of the catalog of director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), one that people owe themselves to watch.
In 1948, an amazing woman name Hind al-Husseini (Hiam Abbass, Everyday is a Holiday) started an orphanage and school in her family mansion to accommodate 55 children left to themselves from the Deir Yassin massacre. She continued this practice until her death in 1994 and, of the lives she touched, that of Rula Jebreal stands out as exemplary of Hind's work. In her book and the film, going by the name of Miral (Freida Pinto, Slumdog Millionaire), describes her upbringing during the first intifada and her struggle with the continuing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and her coming of age during awful times which have yet to resolve themselves.
The only way I see somebody not liking Miral is if the person has absolutely no sympathy for Palestinian orphans. Think what you will about the Israeli/Palestinian struggle, but people die because of these politics, a lot of people, and on both sides. Heroes and villains don't matter when we're talking about citizens; they are only people and, in the film, the people are portrayed by actors who give heart and soul to their roles to make them believable and, often, crushingly sad. For the poor, orphaned, and disenfranchised, hard times are hard times; just ask Charles Dickens.
In a scant filmmaking career, Julian Schnabel has made some incredible films, all of them based on real people, and Miral may be his best to date. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, his previous feature, is as emotionally impactful as they come, but Miral is at least its equal in its portrayal of an individual under an insurmountable struggle for freedom, even if that freedom exists in two completely different ways. In Diving Bell, we have a case of Locked-In Syndrome, in which the protagonist had no choice but to live in a shell. In Miral, the character uses what freedom she has to break free from the shell forced around her. Thematically, it is quite resonant, and not just because of the currency of the subject matter; it is plainly a beautiful, difficult piece of cinema.
The story is quite powerful, but the actors make the film. Freida Pinto is phenomenal in the lead, perfectly portraying Miral as both a starry-eyed young girl and a political force. Whether she's yelling at her dad (Alexander Siddig, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), falling in love, or having the lash taken to her back, she is note perfect. Siddig is equally good in a much smaller role, but a compelling, deeply sympathetic character. The best performance in the film though comes from Hiam Abass as the headmistress of the school. She plays the character from the age of thirty to seventy, and it was genuinely difficult to believe she wasn't the actual age she was portraying at any given time. It's a truly phenomenal performance and I can't wait to see more from Abass.
Miral receives a lovely Blu-ray package from Anchor Bay. The 2.35:1 1080p image is impeccable, featuring perfect color balance and detail. The cinematography by Eric Gaultier (Into the Wild) is impeccable, and some shots are downright chill-inducing; the disc is a fantastic showcase for his talent. The landscapes and the interiors are brilliant in their clarity, detail, and color balance; this is a reference-quality image. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio isn't quite as strong, but it's well balanced and robust. Miral is presented in English, with the occasional snippets of Arabic and Hebrew, and all of it is nice and clear. Schnabel uses a heavy amount of popular music for the score, including two Tom Waits songs as end credit music; all of it very effective.
We also get a good slate of extras. Schnabel conducts an excellent audio commentary with producer Jon Kilik, filled with production information, background, and a few heartbreaking stories of people who appeared in the film. For example, one of his Palestinian actors, a theater owner in Gaza, was assassinated by a religious extremist for what he considered a too liberal production of Cinderella. That it occurred literally two weeks before Schnabel recorded the commentary makes the emotional nature of the story even more powerful. A slate of deleted scenes are all very good, most of which could have been included in the final cut. A short making-of featurette gives us time with Rula Jebreal, who explains some of the differences between the book and the movie, including scenes she deemed too painful to write, but Schnabel demanded be used in the film. A filmmaker question-and-answer session gives us more of the same, and a featurette called "Julian Schnabel Studio Tour" is unnecessary. All in all, an outstanding release for an outstanding film.
Regardless of whether people agree or disagree with the inescapable politics of Miral, nobody can argue with an individual's point of view of her life. Rula Jebreal poured her heart and mind into the book and Julian Schnabel has adapted it faithfully. This is an honest and beautiful film. It may not be perfect, but its soul is clear and I absolutely loved it.
Review content copyright © 2011 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes