When you open a picture puzzle barring any manufacturing mishap all the pieces will given time, patience and a sizable flat surface, will fit together to provide a complete picture duplicating the one on the cover. Unfortunately, the affairs of men are never so simple. There is no correct way for the pieces to fit, no final picture to serve as a definitive goal and quite often several pieces are missing. While considering the movie, Miral, this track of thought came about. Some critics have made the observation that this film about the conflict in the Palestinian region of the Middle East lacks a clear resolution or even a reasonable understanding of the myriad of intricate issues at work in that region. Considering the complexity of the issues and the duration of the resultant conflict span the centuries to Biblical origins offer a solution or even suggesting a plausible summary of the area in less than two hours is hubris bordering on the absurd. This is them compounded by the fact that the narrative voice selected by the filmmaker was that of a young, confused girl. This is not so much an intense discussion of geo-political conflict or socio-economic struggles. This is a coming of age story that should bring a tear to your and a prayer to your lips that this was not your story nor that of your children. Historical tomes are constantly published to dissect and examine what has been occurring in that part of the world. You can easily look up dates, places and events that have molded the warfare and struggles of this region and with little effort are certain to find scholarly films that tackle the subject. After my first of several viewings of this remarkable film I cannot bring myself to believe the filmmaker missed the boat with this film or presented to the audience a work that fell short of reaching its goal. The movie is from a point of view that is purposely isolated from the viewer. This is one on the remarkable aspects of a well crafted film like this; it can not only bring you places that otherwise would be difficult if not impossible to travel to but it can bring you there through the eyes of another person of exposed to a story present through an n entirely foreign narrative. This is what I believe the filmmaker set out to do. Look at war through the eyes of this child growing up in what could only be described as hell on earth.
A couple of years ago I had the privilege of reviewing another remarkable film that met with similar criticism; ‘Purgatory House’ by director Cindy Baer. It was about a suicide by a teenage girl written through the voice of the girl. It was scatted, fragmented and at times incoherent. In other words just what you would expect from a clinically depressed teen girl. In a similar vein this film; ‘Miral’ takes you on a similar journey gazing out at a dangerously dark world through the eyes of a victim not as policy maker. A young girl like the main subject cannot be expected to provide some brilliant insight or arrive at a monumental solution. Her world view has collapsed; caved in on itself to drive her to survival and lashing out at the perceived source of her plight. If this film was clear, well defined and perfectly constructed then it would not be true to the subject or the story the filmmaker is trying to get across. If the director approached this any other way than he did he would not be true to his subject, her plight or his vision for the film. The filmmaker, Julian Schnabel, has been a director I have admired fir years, among his previous films is ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’, the true story of a man nearly completely paralyzed who through the dedication of his physical therapist was able to write a book. After a stroke devastated my own mobility my therapist got me to the point of getting around on my own. To thank them I bought them copies of that film. This seems to be a trademark of this director as a storyteller; to bring his audience intimately inside a life that is completely different than you would otherwise have imagined.
Miral played by Freida Pintoas a teen, spent the last decade of her life in the Palestinian orphanage founded by Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass). She started it in 1948 after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War with 55 children growing rapidly to over 200. In 1978 Miral was given over to the custody of the institution after the death of her mother, brought there by her father in hopes that it would provide a means to a better life than he could provide. At seventeen she is sent to a Palestinian refugee camp as an instructor. There she falls in love with a young man she meets there, Hani (Omar Metwally). In direct conflict to her pacifist upbringing he is a militant who believes an extreme course of action is warranted. The story is semiautobiographical, based on the life of the director’s girlfriend Rula Jebreal. This may have altered the perception he had for these events and diminished his ability to remain objective. Then again this is not a documentary making no claim to provide a judgment free film. It is a movie that was born from his passion of the subject and the persistent violence that has always plagued the region.
Schnabel is a highly visually oriented director. He prefers to let the images speak for themselves. This may be a reason this movie just didn’t click with many critics. You may have a part of yourself that screams out for an understanding, an explanation, something that makes sense. His photography is stunning but places too much onus on the audience to decipher what point is being made. Miral is ultimately torn between two diametrically opposite and mutually exclusive paths; war or peace. This is placed against another of the oldest motivations in history, love; again through the eyes of as teenage girl. Admittedly this is not a film for everyone and it took me several viewings to begin to fully appreciate its craftsmanship nut ultimately it is well worth the effort.