Whether he knows it or not, Julian Schnabel, the celebrated painter and movie director, has become part of the relentless international campaign to isolate and condemn Israel.
Miral, the film he brought to the Toronto International Film Festival this week, scheduled for theatrical release in December by the Weinstein Company, is a piece of blatant propaganda that does all it can to denigrate Israel and arouse sympathy for radical Palestinians. It’s a chronicle of history without a trace of fairness: All Israelis are brutes; almost all Palestinians are angels and victims.
Schnabel is a Jewish American who admits that until recently he paid little attention to politics in the Middle East. His interests changed when he met a Haifa-born Arab Israeli, Rula Jebreal, a well-known broadcaster in Italy and the author of an autobiographical novel, Miral, published in 2004.
She gave Schnabel a draft of the film script she had based on her book. He saw flaws in it and together they set about making improvements. One thing led to another and now they are partners in life well as in cinema. She lives with him in his house in Montauk, Long Island. They came to Toronto together for the film’s North American premiere.
Miral rushes through Israel’s history from its founding to the 1990s, using archival footage (David Ben-Gurion announcing statehood, for instance) and random shots of bombing to provide a sense of authenticity. The conflict is never explained: We learn only that Israelis are for some reason attacking helpless Arabs.
Four female characters carry the story, one of them the founder of a residential school for Palestinian orphans. The emotional focus of the film is the character Jebreal based on the author herself and named Miral (played by Freida Pinto, a star of Slumdog Millionaire). Like Jebreal, she’s a motherless child, educated at the residential school, radicalized by the first intifada in the 1990s. She falls for a young Palestinian who draws her into a terrorist conspiracy. Arrested by the Israelis, she’s savagely beaten in the film’s most appalling scene. The movie ends with Miral leaving Israel on a scholarship to study in Italy.
For those who know Schnabel’s earlier movies, the dismal cinematic quality of Miral turns out to be nearly as disappointing as the heavy-handed propaganda. Before this, he’d directed three features, each of them a fact-based story about an artist or writer facing a desperate situation: Basquiat, about a drug-addicted graffiti artist in New York; Before Night Falls, about a homosexual poet destroyed by the Castro government in Cuba; and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, about a French journalist who wrote a much-admired book after suffering a stroke that left him with “locked-in syndrome,” unable to use anything except his brain and his left eye.
Those films proved Schnabel a director capable of perception and empathy. They impressed many people, including me, more than his paintings.
Miral entirely lacks the qualities he’s demonstrated before. The script is awkward and painfully obvious, the acting is dull and leaden (when it’s not hysterical) and Schnabel’s direction is artless. He uses the camera with eccentric desperation, as if trying to breathe life into a comatose script.
The viewer of Miral can only guess what mixed motives produced this mess. It’s as if he’s forfeited his talent to please his collaborator. For whatever reason, this project didn’t stir his imagination as the earlier films did.
Last week, he revealed some of the background. An interviewer with the Huffington Post asked why the film shows Palestinians as the sole victims; why didn’t he show Palestinian violence against Israelis? He replied that he never intended “to give an exhaustive, historic view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
He was asked whether he would have made a film about Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks if his companion had been committed to Israel. “Maybe,” he answered. “It would be a lie to say we’re not prisoners of our own subjectivity. We’re always influenced by life, desires, anxieties or the experience of the ones you love.” He had one more comment: “This film is not a treatise in political history, nor a polemic. It is a poem.”
Sadly, Schnabel’s film shows none of the subtlety that might justify the word “poem.” But he gives audiences fair warning. The advertising promotes Vanessa Redgrave, that tireless supporter of the Palestinian cause, the famous denouncer of “Zionist hoodlums” at the 1978 Academy Awards. Her part is a meaningless cameo. She obviously turned up just to plant her imprimatur on this contribution to her favourite cause.
Read more: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/09/17/robert-fulford-no-poetry-in-this-anti-israel-propaganda-piece/#ixzz0zrSM3PY2