July 28, 2011

Miral- A Review: Book and Film

So... I sort of love Julian Schnabel. I love Julian Schnabel. I loved Julian Schnabel? I don’t know where to start...

A few years ago, before I had ever heard of the man I saw a little film called Before Night Falls. The film left me breathless with its beauty and perfection.
Before Night Falls is based on the autobiography of the same name by Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas. In the film, Arenas, who was openly gay, is born in Oriente in 1943 and raised by his single mother and her parents, who soon move the entire family to Holguín. After moving to Havana in the sixties to continue his studies, Reinaldo begins to explore his ambitions, as well as his sexuality. After receiving an honorary mention in a writing contest, Arenas is offered the chance to publish his first work. Read more. 

Wanting to know what had been translated from text to film, I read the book shortly after watching the film, (The soundtrack is first rate as well) but was disappointed by the dry lifelessness of the prose. Like a magician, Schnabel has given the flat novel life and filled it with color and emotion. Completely satisfied with my first Schnabel experience, I was ready to explore.

I immediately watched  Basqiuat, another masterpiece. This time about Jean-Michel Basquiat:
an American artist. His career in art began as a graffiti artist in New York City in the late 1970s, and in the 1980s produced Neo-expressionist painting. Basquiat died of a heroin overdose on August 12, 1988, at the age of 27. Read more.

Once again, Schnabel exposes the idiosyncrasies and passion of art through the medium of film. His films blend content and form, subject and medium, leaving only a bricolage of artistic sensibilities. Scenes, characters, music all layered effortlessly to create a documentary like vision of  his subjects and the worlds they inhabit. Two for two. Loving Schnabel.

Next came, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly a much slower and emptier film. It is:
the true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffers a stroke and has to live with an almost totally paralyzed body; only his left eye isn't paralyzed.

What it lacks in plot, the film makes up for with signature Schnabel colors, camera movement as story teller, and a soundtrack that acts as part character/part narrator. I was not crazy about it, but The Diving Bell is a solid film without a doubt. I am only disappointed that I have yet to read the book. It is still on my list.

Wow! What an introduction. This post was meant to be about Schnabel's latest film, Miral. When I first stumbled across the synopsis of the film, I knew it warranted some research. I quickly learned it was based on a book about the life of Rula Jebreal who is apparently Schnabel's girlfriend. I read up on the story:
A chronicle of Hind Husseini's effort to establish an orphanage in Jerusalem after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the Deir Yassin Massacre, and the establishment of the state of Israel.

Jerusalem, 1948. On her way to work, Hind Husseini comes across 55 orphaned children in the street. She takes them home to give them food and shelter. Within six months, 55 had grown to almost 2,000, and the Dar Al-Tifel Institute was born.

In 1978, at the age of 7, Miral was sent to the Institute by her father following her mother's death. Brought up safely inside the Institute's walls, she is naïve to the troubles that surround her. Then, in 1988, at the age of 17, she is assigned to teach at a refugee camp where she is awakened to the reality of the Palestinian refugees. When she falls for Hani, a militant, she finds herself torn between the First Intifada of her people and Mama Hind's belief that education is the road to peace. Read more
 I watched the trailer and ordered the book: 

I wanted to start from the source this time and see where Schnabel would go. I wanted to see if I could guess what he would emphasize, what he would leave out. The novel, which is autobiographical and based on a true story, starts off a bit journalistic and dry, but quickly rushes toward melodrama. Somewhere in the middle, the story finds a perfect equilibrium and becomes riveting. I read over one-hundred pages in one sitting. The interwoven story lines and characters make for a powerful emotional web spun across one of the most divisive conflicts the world has ever known. Never overtly political or personal, Miral finds the balance between the two human conditions and begs you to define the difference.

It is a must read for anyone looking to gain a basic understanding of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. While not completely objective and unbiased, it is honest in its direction. It is a human story of love, failure, anger and eventually peace.  The characters like the nations they represent must learn how to be themselves before they can ever learn to understand the enemy.

So there I was last night: research done, book read, ready to see Schnabel do his thing...and it was a disaster. How he took a text filled with life, turmoil, conflict, emotion, set against a backdrop of war and peace, and the beautiful city of Jerusalem, and create a fragmented, dull, series of poorly acted scenes is beyond me.

Schnabel has taken a group of amazingly complex characters, mostly women, and turned them into caricatures and unlikable mannequins. The plot never flows, and if I had not read the book, I would not have felt any connection to any of it.

I wanted to love it, but this film does not do this story justice. I recommend you read the book and wait for Schnabel's next work. Hopefully, he will focus on another eccentric and doomed artist, Kurt Cobain perhaps, Elliot Smith would be a dream come true, and leave the politics to those more adept.

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