What afflicts the ambitious but wooden "Miral" is what often handicaps well-meaning documentary makers, so assured of their position on a given issue that they forget to tell a coherent story or create drama (which, of course, go hand in hand). Julian Schnabel, the erstwhile painter and director of several outstanding films (including "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), allows his passionate feelings about Palestine to blind him to the fact that he needs to make a convincing and compelling argument, at least if he wants to convert the unconverted. The result is a movie in which every chapter feels like an indoctrination.
But even viewers whose sympathies lie with the Palestinians depicted in Schnabel's film are apt to be put off by his lack of effort in making any case for the cause that doesn't rely on platitudes, one-sided cruelty and earnest music. In 1948, the real-life Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass) founds the Dar al-Tifel home for Palestinian orphans; years later, one of her students, Miral (Freida Pinto) -- despite growing up in relative privilege -- becomes radicalized by the mindless sadism of her Israeli oppressors. In between, we get the smaller stories of Nadia (Yasmine al Massri), a victim of abuse who is imprisoned for striking an Israeli woman on a bus; and Fatima (Ruba Bial), a would-be terrorist bomber serving three life sentences. But the focus is really on Miral and, ultimately, the presumptuousness of Schnabel, who reduces a 60-year-old argument into a two-hour movie (which still feels too long), and will alienate anyone vaguely cognizant of how complicated the issues are. If you are going to produce propaganda, at least make it palatable. "Miral" is anything but.