May 8, 2011
A disaster. The biggest problem with this movie by Julian Schnabel is that it has a terrible, amateurish script by Rula Jebreal, the woman who wrote the novel in which she based her own screenplay. I find it mystifying that instead of hiring a real screenwriter, the producers of this film pretended that they had a real script in their hands. This movie is so badly written, it doesn't even feel like a first draft. I wonder why anyone gave a pass to such an unprofessional, perfunctory piece of writing. Why would Julian Schnabel, who has a solid track record as a director, lower his standards for this particular piece of work? Could it be misguided political correctness?
It happens with all kinds of oppressed minorities. Someone belonging to one of these groups writes a half baked script and no one dares tell them to spiff it up and come back when they have something decent. There is a double standard: the downtrodden are not expected to work as hard because they already have it too hard. The result is schematic dreck like this. One example: bad US Hispanic movies like Entre Nos, which, not surprisingly, is also based on a real story and like Miral, feels faker than a telenovela. The enigma here is that no one could confuse Julian Schnabel with anything downtrodden.
Now, if you decide that you want to make a movie about this heartwarming subject (the Palestinian-Israeli conflict), because God knows that movie audiences rate this topic with the same level of excitement generated by a root canal, you better milk it for everything it's worth. A great political movie arouses outrage, or at least spirited debate (Z, Bloody Sunday, to name just two), but here the outrage is that the filmmakers have the nerve to oversimplify to caricature this most complicated conflict. In Miral the personal is not political. The personal is a pamphlet.
The idea of following the life of a young Palestinian girl as she confronts political activism is certainly interesting. The story of Miral has the potential of being truly compelling and thought provoking but the way it is presented doesn't even rise to the level of propaganda. The Israelis in the movie are portrayed mostly like sadistic bullies (although they happily welcomed the production shekels; the movie was shot almost entirely in Israel).
Miral is simplistic, expository, wooden, heavy handed, and undramatic. Even if it's based on a true story, it feels totally preposterous. Nothing in it is believable because everyone in it is like cardboard. The characters talk to each other in either bombastic historical exposition or embarrassing clichés, the actors seem to have been paralyzed by the bad lines they have to utter, and Schnabel's knack for arty images collides disastrously with the sophomoric writing, becoming precious and annoying. Miral can't make up its mind whether it wants to be a history lesson, a political screed or a personal history. Hint: a personal history will always make a less annoying movie than a didactic, patronizing sermon.
It's pointless to expect such a crude movie to generate any kind of serious discussion. The Jews that objected to its screening at the UN should have saved their breath. This movie is utterly inconsequential. It adds nothing of value to the debate and it does not particularly help the Palestinian cause (unless you think it a great victory to portray the conflict as waged by two separate sets of stick figures, ones noble and long suffering, and the others almost twirling their mustaches; take a wild guess at who is who). Interspersed with the story of Miral, real footage is shown of David Ben Gurion declaring statehood, of Jews arriving in ships in 1947 and almost immediately dancing the hora, and decades later, of the Six Day War and the first intifada, but there is absolutely no insight into the intractability of the conflict. It is willfully naive, lazy and dishonest to bring up such footage so superficially, without committing to really explore the toxic dynamics of the myths of foundation on both sides. Had the filmmakers believed in the power of Miral's story, instead of in their own grandstanding political ideas, they would have made a better film.