“It looks like an Arab made that film.”
Julian Schnabel made that assertion about his new movie, “Miral,” Friday evening at the Hamptons International Film Festival.
It wasn’t quite clear what he meant. Was he referring to the film’s unusually blunt critique of Israeli politics? Or the authentic details of daily life in the Middle East? Schnabel didn’t elaborate, and his interviewer, Alec Baldwin (cribbing from notes scribbled on the back
of a “30 Rock” script), didn’t press him. The two were on stage at Guild Hall in East Hampton; not until later would most audience members actually see the film at a screening down the street at the UA Theater.
Schnabel, of course, is a famous stickler for verisimilitude and detail, and he has an almost superstitious reverence for “actual” people and places, as opposed to the stand-ins and mock-ups that Hollywood films often rely on. For “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Schnabel filmed in the same hospital where the main character wrote his memoir, and used his caregivers as extras and consultants.
“Miral” was shot in Jerusalem, and it feels at times almost like a documentary (though Schnabel’s trademark POV shots are abundant).
The title character of “Miral,” written by Rula Jebreal and based on her own autobiographical novel, is a young Palestinian girl who has a brief flirtation with terrorism. She is played by Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”), who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jebreal. it’s one reason Schnabel chose her. Miral is not poor and uneducated, as experts say most terrorists are – she attends a boarding-school and speaks multiple languages – but she is impressionable. She is also passionate, proud and unwilling to tolerate injustice.
The Israelis are cast as occupiers and oppressors. “These settlers are our real cancer,” says one Palestinian young man (played by Omar Metwally) who wavers between terrorism and non-violence. “They occupy our land and compromise any future solution… They want all of Palestine, without Palestinians.”
That’s not a sentiment you typically hear in most movies, and certainly not in ones released in America. But as the film progresses, Miral meets her enemy, in the form of a teenage Jewish girl, Lisa (Stella Schnabel, Julian's daughter). Lisa is dating one of Miral’s relatives, despite reprisals from her own family. She wants what most young people want: rock music and a place to make out. She is not a major character, but appears just long enough to register a shift – ever so subtly – in Miral’s attitude, and in what seemed to be the hard line of the film itself.
After the screening, Jebreal stood next to Schnabel and told audiences in her almost perfect English, “I’m proud of this Jewish guy of making this movie.” The Palestinians, she said, are “fighting the same fight as the Israelis are fighting, for freedom and democracy.”