Entertainment Movies

Monday 19 March 2018

Slumdog star in controversial road to Damascus experience

Cert 15A

Padraic McKiernan

THERE'S a memorable scene during director Julian Schnabel's Miral when one of the central characters places a bomb in a cinema.

Considering the critical pasting this well-executed if simplistic take on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has received in various quarters, you could be forgiven for thinking the director has delivered an offering capable of a similar effect.

Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto takes the title role as a girl growing up in an east Jerusalem orphanage for Palestinian children displaced by the conflict.

Her story begins in 1972, but the establishment of the Israeli state in 1947 is presented as the defining act that shaped the destiny of Miral and her fellow Palestinians over subsequent decades.

The orphanage that plays such a pivotal role in proceedings was born out of that initial conflict and, run by its inspirational founder Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass), it was intended as an ideology-free oasis in which Palestinian kids could be provided with a stepping stone to a better life.

Fast-forward to 1987 via an inadequate history lesson that loosely chronicles the Palestinian cause from the position of three Palestinian women affected by the conflict and we find Miral rejecting the pacifism that shaped her. Allowing herself to become involved in the initial Palestinian Intifada is revealed as the first step on a journey that results in arrest and an eventual road to an... er... Damascus-type experience.

With movies such as Basquiat and The Diving Bell and The Butterfly on his CV, Schnabel's reputation as a purveyor of accomplished arthouse fare is well established at this stage, but his touch is a little less assured in this instance.

Production values can't be faulted, but the historical canvas delivered is too congested, the central characters too thinly drawn and engagement levels eventually suffer.

It's not the pro-Palestinian polemic its subject matter suggests, however, and if expectation levels are maintained at reasonable levels, you might be pleasantly surprised.


Miral is now showing

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