Director: Julian Schnabel
Cast: Hiam Abbass, Freida Pinto, Alexander Siddig
Director Julian Schnabel follows up his stunning 2007 film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly with Rula Jebreal’s autobiographical novel of her life in East Jerusalem. It interweaves the lives of four women. But doesn't come up with much of a tapestry.
In 1948, shortly after the founding of the State of Israel, Hind Husseini (Abbass) finds 55 orphaned children, survivors of a village massacre. She takes them all into her home, feeds them and educates them. Very quickly the numbers of orphans increases to hundreds.
Abused and mistreated Nadia is arrested for assault, and ends up sharing a cell with ex-nurse and failed terrorist Fatima. Nadia marries Fatima’s brother Jamal (Siddig). Still hopelessly dependent on alcohol, Nadia dies, and Jamal takes their daughter Miral to Hind’s Dar Al-Tifl orphanage. Hind shelters her students from the violence and educates them, believing this to be the key to peace.
Miral (Pinto), now grown up, works as a teacher in a refugee camp. Here, she succumbs to feelings of frustration and helplessness and falls in with Hani, a political activist. Despite pleas from both her father and Hind, she continues her involvement with Hani, allowing Schnabel to explore the value of education in the face of war.
Miral is about the struggle to live in Jerusalem, both for Palestinians and Israelis. It doesn’t take sides, or if it does, it’s a side that opposes all violence. It’s been lovingly crafted by its writer and director, but lacks any edge. Unlike City of God, there are no rough patches; everything feels light, almost superficial. Perhaps its hard to properly empathise with a bratty and naive protagonist who takes her education for granted.
Either way, this lacks the poignancy and intensity that it wants to have. Hind’s heroic story of the orphanage is much more enduring and beautifully depicted, but the rest of Miral leaves you feeling a bit empty.
Poor girl escapes tragic childhood through education and shunning violence. Miral wants to be tough and true to life. But it's no City of God. It's not even City of Jerusalem.