Here is A. O. Scott on Miral, Julian Schnabel’s new feature film: “The awkwardness of the dialogue reaches an apex of absurdity when Miral [Freida Pinto] and her boyfriend, a [Palestinian] militant named Hani (Omar Metwally), debate the relative merits of a two-state solution between passionate kisses.” But this weaving of kissing and debating is precisely what makes it the best scene in the whole movie. On a street corner, under the light of a lamp, a young and beautiful couple smooch and dream of a new state—this is Schnabel at his best. There are other scenes in which we see Schnabel at his worst: A belly dancer, whose childhood was destroyed by a sexually abusive father, and who became a belly dancer because of this abuse, walks sadly into the sea (wave after wave) and dies. Miral has no middle point. It’s either stunningly good or stunningly bad.
Indeed, is this not the cinema of Schnabel? This vacillation between extremes? Basquiat (sharp rise), Before Night Falls (sharp drop), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (sharp rise), and Miral (sharp drop). Each film also contains its internal ups and downs. But the ups and downs in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly are much better than those in Miral, a film about four Palestinian women from different points of that war-ravaged society. One woman is rich, generous, and pragmatic; another is a terrorist and a bit daft; another is depressed all of the time and a slut; another is young and wants to be a revolutionary. The state of Israel is the source of all their misery, and the best of their men are either cowardly and loving or heroic and reckless.
One of the most bizarre things about this film is the casting. The star, Miral, looks nothing like a Palestinian because she is in real life an Indian, Freida Pinto (her fame was made in Slumdog Millionaire). And the man who plays her father looks nothing like a Palestinian because he is in real life half-British and half-Sudanese, Alexander Siddig (his elongated and slender body suggest a Nilotic origin). Matching this crazy casting is crazy cinematography. The camera is hectic, moves up and down and all around, looking, it seems, for a spot, a speck, a sheer flash of greatness. Sometimes it finds it, sometimes it doesn’t.