Film Review: ‘Miral’ Succeeds as Historical Drama, Falters as Character Study

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CHICAGO – No matter how many films he makes, Julian Schnabel may always consider himself a painter first. Watching one of his cinematic efforts is akin to being pulled headfirst into the vivid and visceral canvas of a true neo-expressionist. His work aims to engulf the viewer. It shatters the barriers between a contrived character’s existence and that of the flesh-and-blood audience. Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

A clue to his approach can be found in the subtitle of his upcoming Venice exhibition, the “Architecture of Seeing.” One of the greatest achievements in cinematography over the past decade was Janusz Kaminski’s brilliant imitation of paralyzed journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby’s perception in Schnabel’s 2007 masterpiece, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” For lengthy stretches in the film, the camera peered through Bauby’s eyes, allowing the viewer to experience the disorientation, isolation and frustration of his locked-in syndrome first-hand. It may sound depressing, but the film is utterly exhilarating.

StarRead Matt Fagerholm’s full review of “Miral” in our reviews section.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of Schnabel’s latest picture, the equally audacious yet naggingly bland “Miral.” It’s the first film made by the director that feels as if it were made for someone other than himself. The characters emerge as two-dimensional symbols rather than three-dimensional beings, and every time they open their mouths, their words sound like scripted dialogue rather than spontaneous expulsions from their soul. The subject matter could not be more vital or inherently dramatic, and the film succeeds in its goal to make the material accessible to a mainstream audience. It’s touching, provocative and assuredly enraging, but Schnabel obviously intends for it to be so much more. His close collaborator and current girlfriend, Rula Jebreal, based the script off her own semi-autobiographical novel, and it’s clear that her story was intended as both a call to peace and a love letter to her country. “Miral” is nothing if not a sincere project, but it’s difficult to determine whether Schnabel is either too close to the material or not close enough. While it is certainly the least of Schnabel’s directorial efforts, the film is not without its moments of visionary brilliance and emotional power. Yet it’s ultimately as diverting a picture as Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”—you like what you see enough to make you wish that you felt more deeply about it.

‘Miral’ stars Hiam Abbass, Freida Pinto, Alexander Siddig, Omar Metwally, Yasmine Al Massri, Ruba Blal, Willem Dafoe and Vanessa Redgrave. It was written by Rula Jebreal and directed by Julian Schnabel. It opened in local theaters April 15. It is rated PG-13.

StarContinue reading for Matt Fagerholm’s full “Miral” review.

Freida Pinto stars in Julian Schnabel’s Miral.
Freida Pinto stars in Julian Schnabel’s Miral.
Photo credit: The Weinstein Company

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