Spanning the period from the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 to the talks of the Oslo Peace Agreement in 1994, the story begins when the narrator asserts, ‘I was born in 1973, but my story really begins in 1947.’ Confusingly, Miral (Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire) doesn’t actually appear until a third of the way through the film, before which a latticework of wretched family and political history is laid out. Through the complicated emotional relationships and tragedy-stricken individuals, Schnabel presents a running theme of ‘education for peace’, represented by none other than Hind Husseini (played by leading Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass). An inspirational figure whose Dar El-Tifl school remained a safe haven for hundreds of Palestinian orphans throughout the major conflict years, Husseini also happens to be the glue that fuses the political landscape with the introduction of the 17-year-old Miral.
Evidently not an award-winning actress for nothing, Freida Pinto triumphs as stubborn and forthright Miral, yet a couple of oddly placed and fleetingly short cameos from big-screen actors such as Willem Dafoe and Vanessa Redgrave are somewhat distracting. With similar tolerability, Schnabel endeavours to inject the film with his usual artistic streak by playing around with cinematographic layering. Fusing archive footage of protests and newsreels with kinetic, close-up camera shots of his actors in a choppy, unsettling manner seems like an effective way of communicating this turbulent genre, yet it often feels as if Schnabel has just missed the mark.
All in all, Miral is a Schnabel film, so ultimately it’s worth watching. The concept of telling the story from the perspective of a young Palestinian female is fresh as well as intriguingly eye-opening for less informed audiences, yet the objective of the film is something to ponder over. Miral has educational, emotional, political, artistic and religious motives, all seemingly battling it out for an unreached conclusion. It’s a well-acted and thought- provoking film, but if there is one tip for viewing, it’s this: stay focused, or you’ll risk being totally confused.