I try to watch as many art-house films as I can; not because I'm a hipster and think that such stuff is always better than the mainstream offerings from Hollywood, but because art films are genuinely interesting, and once in a while, along comes a masterpiece. And then again, also once in a while, there comes an art film that nearly ends all art films; one that's either just-plain-bad, too controversial to swallow, or an effort from a director who had better impress his followers...or else. Julian Schnabel, the director of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", definitely has some seriously visionary work to follow that film up with when it comes to his newest feature. "Miral", alas, is one of those art films that doesn't nearly fit the definition of a masterpiece. In fact, it's a mess of artistic vision and melodramatic, uneven storytelling. It doesn't work in the slightest, but it is not a bad film.
Bad films are annoying, and while there are PLENTY of annoyances to be found here, "Miral" has some good aspects to it to at least try and overshadow the bad ones. However, in the end, things just feel so out of place and over-stylized that you have to stop and realize that this mediocrity fest IS from the guy who also made the said film, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". Now THAT was a great movie; while this film is just barely half the one that the earlier film was.
The film chronicles Hind Husseini's establishment of a Jerusalem orphanage, as well as the establishment of Israel. Husseini first discovers over fifty homeless children living on the streets, and she decides to take them in; feeding them, and giving them shelter. In a matter of time, which is like, no time at all, really; the fifty kids have grown to about two thousand, and this is where Husseini decides to build the orphanage for all the children.
The film's titular character, Miral (Freida Pinto) is sent to the orphanage after her mother dies, and her father almost forcefully sends her off, as he cannot take care of her on his own. Miral is unaware of the problems growing in the outside world; but she evolves into a very beautiful, very intelligent, and respectful young woman. She is given a chance, finally, to realize the troubles that surround her when she is assigned to teach at a refugee camp. This is where Miral opens her eyes and sees the violence, the problems; and some of the beauty.
Schnabel decides to show one side of the story being told here; the "other side". I respect his artistic vision, as I do believe he is a true artist, but this is the first film of his that I've seen in which it's sort of a win-win situation. You want beautiful cinematography, taut direction, and good leading performances; you've got 'em. And hey; just because I didn't feel anything whatsoever with this story does not mean that you won't. Obviously Schnabel obviously felt something; maybe you will too.
I wanted to like "Miral". I wanted to be one to praise it in spite of all this critical panning it has received, which surprised me when I first saw the reactions of various critics, but I can't lie; I must speak the truth. I did not like the film. For every good thing, there was also a plethora of bad ones. The drama felt weak, I never really cared, and thus, I felt bored; which is strange, because I expected Schnabel to be the silent, observant type. He exercises some craft here, he gives his film an interesting look. But that just isn't enough. The film won't win much support in terms of its political themes, just as it won't have many admirers as a film overall. And it shows; I now realize why "Miral" has gotten such negative critical reception. I don't necessarily hate it, as some people seriously do, but there's not enough going on here for me to recommend it. Once again; it isn't a bad film. It's just an unfocused, nearly joyless and most certainly bland one.