From left: Novelist Rula Jebreal, director Julian Schnabel, actresses Freida Pinto and Yasmine Al Masri who collaborated on Miral, a film about Palestine. Image Credit: Alex Westcott/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Miral, the latest film by acclaimed American director Julian Schnabel, made its UAE debut last night at a gala screening in the Emirates Palace Hotel. It was shown as part of the line up for the fourth annual Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

The film, based on a semi-biographic book by Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal, follows four generations of women in the same family as they attempt to live in occupied Palestine from 1948-1993, has caused heated debates wherever it has been shown.

“I did the film because I thought something needed to be done to address the situation in Palestine…I read Rula’s book and thought it would be a perfect way to enter this discourse and open a dialogue…my goal is to show a cross section of how these people have been held hostage over a long period of time,” Schnabel explained.

Freida Pinto, the Indian actress and model who rose to international stardom after performing in the globally successful Slumdog Millionaire, was cast as in the role of the lead character, a move that was somewhat controversial since many have felt that an Arab or Palestinian actress should have been chosen instead.

“After I read Rula’s novel and saw Freida in Slumdog Millionaire…she looks so similar to Rula that they can be sisters, I immediately knew that she was the right person to play Miral. I asked Danny Boyle [Director of Slumdog Millionaire] to put Freida on tape [reading a scene from the script], I knew she would be perfect and I haven’t been disappointed…I loved working with her,” Schnabel said.

Pinto agreed, noting that she felt an instant connection to the character Miral and that motivated her to become a part of the film.

“I usually don’t like to read scripts on the plane but I when I received this script while I was traveling in 2009…it was both beautiful but also discomforting…by the time I came to my part, I felt that something should be done or changed…I felt so connected to Miral, even though I’m Indian so I told my agent I wanted to be a part of this,” Freida said. “Another thing that drew me to the screenplay was how it showed that education is the best way to pave the road to peace,” she added.

It took Schnabel and Jebreal five months to complete the screenplay in 2007 to ensure that it stays as true as possible to Jebreal’s story. The result was that it had met with praise from those who watched it in Ramallah but criticism from other international locations.

But Schnabel noted that he was determined to make sure Miral reaches as wide an audience as possible and is considering purchasing the television rights for the film so he can screen in simultaneously in Occupied Jerusalem, the United Nations and the Middle East.

“This film is a cry for peace as well as being a story about a little girl growing up in Palestine… the story may belong to me but at the same time, these events are a part of history…I’m so proud that Julian, a Jewish American, was able to walk in a little Palestinian girl’s shoes and tell her story,” Rula said.

Miral Review

Miral, based on a semi-biographic book by Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal, attempts to provide a multigenerational journey of four Arab women living under Israeli occupation from the years 1948 until 1993, however, several discrepancies within it may prevent audiences from fully engaging with the film.

Despite being directed by Julian Schnabel, who received critical acclaimed for The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007), and written by Jebreal, Miral fails to provide the right combination of screenplay and cinematic magic but rather, feels as though not enough effort was placed to balance all the different perspectives that the film tries to incorporate.

Overall it is a disappointing film that will leave many upset with the way this highly sensitive issue was depicted.