(West Bank): The Indian actress who starred in the
award winning blockbuster “Slumdog Millionaire” has moved from the
slums of Mumbai to the squalid refugee camps of the West Bank in a
new film: the story of a defiant Palestinian girl who wants to
fight against Israel in a coming of age story with a Mideast
“Miral,” directed by award-winning artist Julian Schnabel and with
cameos by Willem Dafoe and Vanessa Redgrave, stands apart for more
than its star power.
Due for US release in December, it’s also likely to give Western
audiences — some perhaps more used to movies depicting Arabs as
violent militants — a compassionate view of the Palestinians.
For Mumbai-raised Freida Pinto, 25, who became a star after Slumdog shot from obscurity to box-office success and eight
Academy Awards, it was a chance for a different setting.
“Miral” sweeps across decades of the Mideast conflict.
The cinematography lays out beautiful Palestinian landscapes and
Pinto glows in her scenes. But the dialogue comes across at times
as preachy, and Schnabel seems to try pack in as much Palestinian
history as possible in the 112-minute film.
For the filmmakers, the message is the key.
“The ordinary American who knows nothing about Palestine and knows
nothing about our cause — it will be the first time he will sit
and watch this story,” said Yasmine Al-Massri, a 31-year-old
Paris-based Palestinian actress who plays Pinto’s mother.
At a news conference in Ramallah before the screening late
Thursday, some Palestinian movie crew members said they hoped
Pinto’s star power would draw audiences into cinemas and that
Schnabel’s Jewish faith would deflect claims of bias.
“It’s a Jewish American director who is telling a Palestinian
story,” said Al-Massri.
Headstrong, Miral tumbles into the political storms lashing around
her: it’s the late 1980s and Palestinians are rebelling against
Israel’s military occupation. Miral tries to fight Israel and
battle her father, at the same time as she falls for a handsome
The movie was filmed over three months in 2009 with a crew of
about 150 people and a budget of $15 million, according to local
It’s based on the tumultuous biography of Palestinian-Italian
journalist Rula Jebreal, stretching back in time to tell the
stories of her mother, her mother’s savior, a nurse hardened by
war who tries to bomb an Israeli cinema, and her older mentor, the
real-life figure of Hind Husseini, who rescued children during the
war that followed Israel’s creation.
It moves among scenes of Palestinian youths hurling rocks at
Israeli soldiers, children fleeing violence and whispered
conversations between imprisoned women. It crisscrosses between
the cities of Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, now mixed Arab-Jewish cities in
modern-day Israel. There are scenes in Jerusalem and the
Palestinian city of Ramallah.
At Thursday night’s screening in Ramallah that kicked off a local
film festival, hundreds of Palestinians crammed into the Kasabeh
movie burst into applause and laughter during a scene when a
shiny-eyed Pinto tells her mentor Husseini that Israeli and
Palestinian negotiators had signed a peace deal — 17 years later,
peace talks have produced few results.
The movie views historical events through Palestinian eyes, like
the massacre of over 100 residents of the village of Deir Yassin
in April 1948 by Jewish militants in the war that followed the
establishment of the state of Israel.
Pinto said in an August interview with the New York Times that she
thought the film would make waves. “I knew it was going to be one
of those stories that will create a lot of controversy.” Actress
Al-Massri said the movie could serve as a reminder of why
Palestinians and Israelis needed to be pushed to peace.
“This movie is important because it is real,” she said.
“Everything we are saying, everything you are seeing, every
action, every word you see is real. It happened, and its still
happening in the everyday life of the Palestinian and Israeli