Who would’ve expected Indiewire columnist Anne Thompson, a sage industry reporter not exactly known for dispensing blunt or blistering film reviews, to bitchslap Julian Schnabel‘s Miral (Weinstein Co., 12.3), a pro-Palestinian drama about compassion for orphans and growing anti-Israeli militancy?
While calling Miral “heartfelt” and confessing to crying during the film’s bookend sections, Thompson, filing from Venice Film Festival, says that Schnabel “tells the wrong story,” that the film is “earnest agit-prop” with a likely “narrow art-house niche,” and that star Freida Pinto, playing the title role of an orphan who grows into a militant, is “not an expressive actress.” Opaque, she means. Fetching but lacking the necessary chops.
What exactly could the term “the wrong story” mean? I understand that agit-prop films can feel like a lecturing harangue. But could Thompson be alluding to a suspicion that a pro-Palestinian drama is a politically untenable thing as far as award-season politics are concerned?
“The harshness of the Israeli occupation — and continued mutual hatred and distrust — make the rise of the Intifada, which Miral joins, inevitable. She is arrested at 17, brutally caned and released after 24 hours. The movie ends in 1994, a year after the signing of the Oslo Middle East Peace Accord creating two separate states, which the film points out, has still never been honored. Miral goes on to become a reputable journalist working in Italy.
“Her story remains expositional and flat, filled with long debates with her boyfriend Hani (Omar Metwally) about alternative routes to a Middle East solution. ‘What they really want is all of Palestine without Palestinians,’ says Hani. ‘With them here there is no future for us.’
“Schnabel needed a more proficient dramatist to pull this off,” Thompson writes. “He’s an elegant, visual director — he and cinematographer Eric Gautier adopt an unusual blurry technique for the more intense scenes — but this movie, while filmed on authentic Jerusalem locations, too often devolves into dull talking heads.”
She notes that “it’s possible” — i.e., dead certain — “that the Weinsteins will fan flames of controversy around this film’s highly-charged subject. Nonetheless Miral — which will also play Telluride and Toronto — will likely remain within a narrow art-house niche.”