Leaving the screening room after Miral, some critics were immediately confronted by a minor rift. One journalist branded the film “amateurish” and bemoaned the lack of positive representation in regard the Israelis whilst another writer championed the film’s palpable outrage and Julian Schnabel’s direction. Somewhat caught in the middle of this debate it immediately reminded one of quite how difficult it is to conduct a debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict without it escalating into a war of ideologies, pre-conceived notions and the impossibility of reaching any definitive conclusion on the matter.
Adapted from the book of the same name by Rula Jebreal, itself based on ‘real events’, Miral (a red flower which grows by the side of the road) is the story of two generations of Israeli women; Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass) who, aghast at the sight of orphaned Palestinians during the 1948 war, is compelled to convert her family home into a school (Dar Al-Tifl Al-Arabi Institute) and sanctuary for dispossessed children; and 7 year old Miral (Frieda Pinto) who arrives at the institute in 1978 after her mother, no longer able to bear occupation, commits suicide. The remaining narrative follows Miral’s journey as her passivity becomes politicised having fallen in love with Hani, an activist initially intent on causing as much havoc in the Israeli settlements as possible before converting to the side willing to negotiate (or tolerate) a two-state solution.
Admittedly there are a no saintly depictions of the Israelis, repeatedly seen in either Orthodox attire or military outfits, their gun barrels always pointed with intent. However, as a (largely) partisan film (the dedication to “Those who desire peace on both sides” in the end credits is a bitter pill to swallow) about what it is to be occupied and suddenly treated as sub-human – the true state of affairs in the occupied terrorities and illegal Jewish settlements – it is undeniably effective if only because the injustice is so abhorrent to watch. The bulldozing of family homes, Schanbel’s camera lingering in close up as the claws of the digger clumsily dismantle the concrete walls and ceilings, is, whatever people may like to claim, an actual practice, something which really happens. Frankly, after a series of films, nonetheless good ones, which attempt to take the middle ground, it is refreshing to see the true brutality of a regime exposed without having to apologiese for it.
Many of the performances are weak and some arbitary; William Defore delivers dialogue and moves as if floating through some kind of valium induced haze and Freida Pinto, like her underwhelming performance in Slumdog Millionaire, occasionally lends her lines an air of superficiality, putting far too much emphasis on metaphors where subtle deployment is requred. This is no more true than when she explains the meaning of her name: “Miral is a red flower. It grows on the side of the road. You’ve probably seen millions of them”. You half expect ‘MESSAGE’ to appear on the screen.
Nowhere near as refined or visually sophisticated as Schnabel’s The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, Miral is far from the disaster many critics have denounced the film as. If you are a Zionist or fervently anti-Palestinian, you’d be best advised to avoid Miral but you’d do so at the expense of seeing a different perspective (the many claims that the BBC are anti-Semitic are ludicrous) and perhaps a reality many would prefer not to exist.