DVD Review: Miral

Julian Schnabel made an amazing transition from painter to filmmaker with the bio-pic Basquiat. He then followed that with two more great films, Before Night Falls and the beautifully striking The Diving Bell And The Butterfly. Can he go four for four with yet another bio-pic, this time about a orphaned Palestinian girl growing up amidst the Arab-Isreali troubles?

Sadly, the answer is no. Now that’s not to say Miral is a bad film, it’s just simply a good film, which is disappointing because it could have been just as great as his previous work.

The biggest problem is how disjointed the storytelling it is. In fact, the titular character isn’t even introduced until a full thirty minutes into the film. First the film follows Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass) how opens an orphanage in the 1940s. Then we are introduced to Nadia (Yasmine Elmasri) who is raped by her stepfather and runs away to become a belly dancer. She ends up having a daughter, Miral (Freida Pinto) who is brought to Hind’s orphanage after her mom kills herself.

Eventually we cut to Miral being all grown up and learning about the troubles and getting involved in ways that her father and Hind don’t approve of and she must come to her own decisions about how she wants to deal with the injustice that she sees all around her.

The other really big problem with the film is how Schnabel chose to shoot it. Following in the style in which he shot Diving Bell there are tons of atmospheric, out of focus silent close ups of stuff. And while this style worked well in Diving Bell due to the subject matter, it hurts this film for exactly the same reason. Schnabel and writer Rula Jebreal (she also wrote the book of the same name) are obviously trying to get a political message across, however it is lost amongst all the artsy-ness that Schnabel crams in the film.

Across the board the performances are pretty fantastic and Pinto, most recently seen in Rise of the Planet of the Apes carries the film extremely well, considering how little film she’s actually given to work with. While the stories in the beginning were interesting, it’s a shame we have to wait through a fourth of the film before Pinto graces us with her presence because she’s absolutely the best thing about the film. Oh and Willem Dafoe shows up for a few minutes in the beginning and he’s good as always.

And the Tom Waits songs that take us through the last part of Miral and the end credits are a nice touch too.

The film is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen format and Dolby Digital 5.1 with English and Spanish subtitles. This film is extremely well shot and is very beautiful, but the beauty gets in the way of the storytelling and prevents the film from being as great as it could have been.

Audio Commentary: Director Julian Schnable and producer Jon Kilik give their thoughts on the making of the film. The commentary is actually more interesting than the actual film. Deleted Scenes (3 min.): Nothing really exciting going on here. The Making of Miral (14 min.): This making of makes you understand why Schnabel made the film, but it doesn’t make the film a more entertaining experience. Julian Schnabel Studio Tour: (7 min.) Schnabel shows off some of his paintings in his studio.Filmmaker Q&A: (31 min.) There’s some pretty good stuff on here, this is the best specail feature of the bunch.

Miral is a beautiful film with wonderful performances and an interesting story that gets almost completely lost in Schnabel’s desire to make a pretty picture. It’s not as good as his previous efforts, but it’s certainly worthy your time. Though, it might be better to have read the book first.

Anchor Bay Films presents Miral. Directed by: Julian Schnabel. Written by: Rula Jebreal. Based on her book. Starring Freida Pinto, Hiam Abbass and Willem Dafoe. Running time: 106 minutes. Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some violent content including sexual assault. Released on DVD: July 12, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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