Israeli groups are protesting the movie Miral, worrying that it is pro-Palestine. I think it’s a perfectly valid artistic point of view to portray the life of a Palestinian girl. The greater achievement is that Miral never feels like a hot button issue movie, or the even more dreaded “important social” movie. It’s just a moving drama about a world that’s foreign, at least to me, and probably many audiences.
Miral’s (Freida Pinto) story begins with Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass) who founded the orphanage school that provided Miral refuge. In a separate home, Nadia (Yasmine Al Massri) escapes the home where her stepfather rapes her. She is Miral’s mother, and dies when Miral is five. Miral lives in Hind’s school, but at 16 becomes aware of the PLO.
So far this seems like a pretty universal story to me. There’s a history of tragedy that the young protagonist has to survive and overcome. Through Miral’s experience, the audience gets to experience a different time and place. Anyone with such a life would surely be exposed to the influences surrounding her, and if that’s Israel in the last 70 years, these are the issues.
We witness a lot of suffering, from Nadia’s rape to Miral’s violent interrogation later in the film. Amid that, there are influences who encourage her to stay out of politics, and other forces who show that it’s not really possible to be ambivalent.
The most political character in the film, Miral’s boyfriend Hani (Omar Metwally), is totally reasonable. He expresses the Palestinian side but he’s not saying, “You get out!” He’s advocating a policy that includes everyone in the region, because it’s not us or them. Later in the film, he’s willing to accept only 22% of the land under the Oslo Agreement, because he sees the only way to make progress is to start small. That doesn’t sound like zealotry to me.
Director Julian Schnabel will probably never create a point of view more immersive than The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. There he could actually make us see out of the one eye Jean-Do Bauby had. So the challenge of Miral was taking a politicized story and attempting to make viewers see the human story in it. I was just watching the life of Miral, invested in her decisions and hoping she’d come out the other side. Then there’s a text at the end about what happened after Oslo.