Transitioning from the 1980s art scene, where he shared the spotlight with the likes of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, into feature filmmaking, Julian Schnabel has, in the relatively short span of five directing efforts, furthered his visual legacy and displayed a unique political perspective, a calling to explore the lives of wandering souls constrained by time, circumstance and convention. Street artist and sometime compatriot Basquiat (Jeffrey Wright), who died much too soon. Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem) in Before Night Falls. Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who suffers a stroke that leaves him completely paralyzed except for his left eye, which he uses to write his autobiographical story The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
Now Schnabel turns his attention to the story of Miral (Freida Pinto), a Palestinian girl caught up in the turmoil of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and while the filmmaker has had some stake in his past subjects, Miral ups the ante even further. As a Jewish artist, Schnabel has decided to examine the issue from the Palestinian perspective, casting him as something of a traitor. In addition, the story is an adaptation of a novel by Rula Jebreal (who also wrote the script), Schnabel’s current girlfriend.
The film and its narrative break free of conventional strictures by opening up the world, allowing the audience to see much more than one girl’s plight. Schnabel’s glaring light seeks to expose the complex truth of the Palestinian situation and generally does so, despite having a less-than-compelling center in the undeniably beautiful Pinto and losing the poetic touch of grace that he has wielded so effective in the past. Grade: B-