Monday, April 25, 2011

Miral (2011) From Julian Schnabel Pathé/The Weinstein Company Based on the novel by Rula Jebreal film report by craniv boyd.

Miral (2011) From Julian Schnabel Pathé/The Weinstein Company Based on the novel by Rula Jebreal film report by craniv boyd.


Maps, territories lands they represent, the people and histories they demarcate and hint at is the starting point of this film Miral (2011) latest of artist and director Julian Schnabel. As the opening credits roll we are in a soft macro focus on maps the names are Roman and the legend indicates the epochs under great conquerors like Caesar or the son of Phillip of Mastodon, the by gone names of places like Jericho or Philadelphia or Canaan, the region looks biblical and when the still existent city of Jerusalem appears on the map viewers are located in the near east, the cartographic slide show in pastel hues is once reminiscent of a claustrophobic locked in space Schnabel explored in his previous film the diving bell and the butterfly, yet at the same time the interest in antique cartography dovetails with the artists recent works on paper, which are  paintings over nautical maps of tropical Islands. Miral is a film made by an artist the opening credits are done with an artist's sensisibitily in his choice to show a map of the sort you find in an Antiquarian instead of a Google map or an image taken by remote control form a satellite orbiting earth. The opening credits align the film with drawing rather than re emphasizing photography and the latest technology.




Miral is a story of women Schnabel "follows" the women in the effort to generate the film, the narrative begins Homeric style in Medias res with the preparations for burial of Yasmine Elmasri's character of Hindi the camera takes us into a real space of a Palestinian mortuary and the realness of the Arab women who spread green pigment over the white shroud and in their movements have the green pigment transferred onto their black garb, are all authentic so matter of fact so as to be exotic not in their subjects but in the reality of the locations and people portrayed, naturalism in film has in recent years approached the status of endangered beast.


The date of death is given in a white Swiss san serif sub title, Swiss modernist type a time-honored classic in current fine arts. The same typeface is utilized center frame white and super imposed heralding the name "Hindi" it is the same sculptural usage of type that French Jean Luc Goddard developed in his early classics like Masculin Feminin with Schnabel the type is like nouvelle vauge cinema, yet more in tune elegant less abrasive than in the cinema of Goddard, striking yes but working for meaning in the film not subverting it anarchically. Hindi word and name floats over the filmed action not on a separate title of black.


The story starts in 1948 where Hindi a youngish woman takes a formative position when confronted with horror she faces in the uncomfortable reality of displaced palilistinian children in the street, she acts and takes the children home with her. She founds a school and the narrative continues, Wilhelm Defoe's character as the interested U.S. army officer who asks Hindi "so you never married… listen…don't be a stranger" represents a kind of saintly character who forgoes one committed relationship so as to: "(but I) have 2000 children and they all need an education."




The banality of evil, how a claustrophobic and abstract repetitious movement of the subjective camera towards and away from a black pole of some sort, the movement looks wrong then its persistence and inescapably becomes sickening. Suddenly it stops and the camera jumps to reveal the scene of unapparent squalor the viewer suspected they might be in. It is a fat balding man getting up from a bed buttoning his pants up, while his stepdaughter lies crying and raped, the spectators to this see from this terrifying moment that they were placed in the subjective view of the helpless young woman, the abstract nature of the prior camera angle withheld the mystery of incest in progress.

The woman gets ups from the bed rapidly collects her personal affects then steals some crumpled cash from a coat pocket announces she is leaving immediately, can't take it anymore tells her younger sister to come with her now as she cowers under the blankets across the room, the mother pleads with her not to leave and the woman in anger says she knew what he was doing to her all along and watch out because she (pointing at the cowering sister) is next. The mother begs of her not to do this but she leaves despite this, her mother hands her some money, in that moment of her embarkation made through willful choice that defined the abuse victim, a now familiar white title appears with her name "Nadia" so as to illustrate an example of strength of character as a result of determination relating to decisions. The options of to stay there with the certainty of mute oppressed and suffering or to leave and survive at any cost with the uncertainty of the world at large. She Nadia is given a name in the moment after she decides to live on her own away and through her trauma.


Cut to the progress of a rake or rather scenes from the life of moll Flanders, we have no innocent girl duped into a life of debauch as in the etchings of Englishmen W. Hogarth, rather an uneducated belly dancer survivor who uses the same object her former abuser took, her body her person. Has she fallen or is Nadia falling up dancing in a Middle Eastern cabaret so as to have capital from the immediate abilities of her person, with the use of her body as sex object? Her motivations for choice of work place become apparent after her dance set. Seated at the bar drinking by herself smoking, An Israeli man approaches with a pick up line in Hebrew, Nadia's rejoinder is a bitter retort in his mother language, Impressed the Israeli man asks "who she is actually" surprised by the fluency of a visibly Palestinian belly dancer in a second Semitic language. She tells him to back off that it is obvious that she does not want to speak to him. Her employer steps in gently and firmly reminding the man to respect her wishes, after the bar patron exits, Nadia's employer pours her another milky chartreuse colored drink of spirits at her request, he offers her a sandwich encouraging her to eat something, Nadia is not hungry she finishes the drink instead then rambles home staggering numbed by the alcohol waving weakly at the dock workers as the sun comes up. It is implied that drink on demand is an important perk if not motivation for Nadia's choice in nocturnal employment, it corresponds to the gin and destruction of women and morals W. Hogarth illustrated in his social commentary of London.      




The rage that was the impetus for Nadia's personal exodus haunts her as Palestinian and young attractive woman in a newly colonised nation of Israel antebellum the six days in 1967, life is hard for her to navigate. She is a bus passenger alone and in broad daylight, she is not delegated to the back of the bus like Rosa Parks, her discrimination is more of the perforated sort, half sanctioned by the state rather than wholly as with Jim Crow and segregationist south, on her bus ride an Israeli man facing his Israeli partner or girlfriend makes eyes at Nadia, he must smell something for he then in-turn touches her hand that is on the overhead support railing in the bus near his, a small gesture nevertheless an invasive one a kind of unsolicited sexual overture hand contact, Nadia's rage emerges a steely hate-filled glare is shot at the Israeli man with a wandering eye and idle hands, his companion who is mid sentence speaking at him sees his apparent divided attention, the harsh query "what are you looking at" turns to derisive barking at Nadia "Arab whore". She succumbs to her unprocessed rage, striking the woman breaking her nose so as to break the nose of that special woman who gave her life and unjustly blamed her later for inviting incest. She is arrested and incarcerated for an assault on an Israeli woman the drastic rapid cutting forward through commotion and apprehension on the bus, to trial and entrance through the gates of a bright prison yard we are led to believe that this is draconian if not fast justice for minor infractions. Rosa Parks no doubt felt a kind of despair and fatigue when she sat in the front of the bus. The nonviolence of Parks and harsh unjustified imprisonment sparked a boycott that was a decisive battle in a war fought with love as its primary tactic that was the civil rights movement. Violence and rage are what relegate Nadia to a character cum quasi case study of injustice in the novel of Rula Jebral on which this film is based, she like so many fall prey to her anger within. Her own unconsidered rage directed in frustration at a petty if not inconsequential minor injustice spirals her out of it, her violence puts her in jail and jail time changes her life.


In the slammer her cell mate knows immediately the tell tale sings of the early terms in a pregnancy, her caring and love for Nadia are mysterious how did this woman young Palestinian considerate and incarcerated come by clinical knowledge of the human reproductive cycle? Nadia does a favor for her cell mate by approaching a red haired tall Israeli alpha female in the yard, demanding a cigarette after a brief sizing up of the intensity of Nadia's gaze, the inmate furnishes her with information along with the smoke, that her cell mate is a terrorist serving three consecutive life sentences.   




Fatima's story is announced in the same way as Hindi and Nadia's her narrative is the most concise in the film, as a minor role her time and motivations are compressed each of the moments of her life are concrete and jump from one to another, the cuts move in crescendo in their frequency, from her occupation as chief nurse in a hospital at the time of the six days war, her dismissal from her post because of her complacency in abetting the escape of recovering wounded migrant Jordanian soldiers who were prisoners of war, to what she did with her free time and anger after hitherto trauma she witnessed in unprecedented scale via horrors of war, how she elected to go further down the path she started when she abetted the escape of combatants from the hospital. We see Fatima animated and expressive in clandestine meeting with radical extremists sympathetic to a cause her voiced over narration overlaps her voice in the meeting confusing things her actions and next move begins before her narration can catch up, she walks into a crowed movie theatre, speaking of the ease with which she could execute her deception, as an Arab woman she could plant the dynamite in the red hand bag under the seat of the movie theatre, the Marquis reads Polanski Revulsion, the audience watches with some what rapt attention Sharon Tate's last performance, Fatima keeps looking at a couple necking across the aisle the cuts are increasing in their frequency she leaves her lethal bag under a seat, and exits the theatre, ticking is heard, Sharon Tate is being attacked onscreen and as the ticking persists the camera goes and shows a quick ever increasingly rapid jump cut portrait of the movie going public to show all the lives taken by the pending violence off screen, cut to the dock with Fatima the accused seated sentencing is in process and the court asks all to rise, she in a last and desperate attempt at insurrection remains seated, unrepentant and receives two consecutive life sentences for her deed and a third bonus life sentence thrown in by the court for her disrespect of its proceedings. She throws up her fingers in a kind of symbolic gesture so as to confirm her martyrdom and solidarity with a terrorist cause. After this we are told that goods she fanatically planted did not deliver there were no casualties, this passage in the film is rendered to near absurdity so as to parody extremists in general to be a sword that cuts both belligerents in this dramatic instance.       




Solar flare and over exposure contribute to the subjective over the shoulder camera work that builds the shots of most of the film. Variations in color film stock and filters provide an atmosphere and a patina to epochs decades and dramatic events, of the Miral saga Schnabel is able to color a murder scene with a bucolic rose tint, the assassination occurs semi obscured the villain pulling the character slowly and violently out of frame and out of life.


Over the duration of Miral the light gets in your eyes offering a Pier Paolo Pasolini esque method of the long take, the flare of the sun or artificial light with Schnabel comparable to a moments where Jason or the Blind Theseus's heads are framed by the sun light and solar flare as they navigate in the visitation of the attic Argonauts epic Pasolini created in the 1970's with his version of Medea. The sensibility for the light in this film establishes Julian Schnabel as a maitre much more so than his previous films.




Some of the adult children of the Director are cast in supporting roles Vito as an extra, body guard for a visiting dignitary to Jerusalem, who holds a press conference in a hotel about the results of a peace treaty, singed in Norway. Stella plays role opposite Frida Pinto's character Miral, as an Israeli woman daughter of an officer in the Israeli army who dates Miral's cousin, a moment of tension when the girls shift their conversation from English rock and roll bands like the who, and the rolling stones to questions of, citizenship and nationhood when the officer father comes home and grills Miral about her ethnicity correcting her answer of Palestinian to say "you are Israeli". The sequence of the two girls driving through the checkpoints and the landscape in a red convertible hints at a kind of friendship and casual tolerance between ethnicity's one would hope to have more of in the Middle East.




When the title announcing "Miral" is given in its large Swiss sans serif center frame, the frame presents a close view of a young Miral in a blue dress off to left of center frame, the view ends near where the armpits begin, projected on the screen in a theatre this image of the girl in Palestine is big she is for a moment a "Big Girl" this view and the image echoes a series of oil paintings Schnabel made in recent years titled "Big girls" which brings us to artistic cross pollination over varied forms in the oeuvre of an artist, Schnabel has in fact returned in film to an idea for an image he developed in painting in a way that is seamless, this instance and moments where a pair of lovers discuss a book and the frame is filled with black and white half tone photographs of natural disasters which look like the source photographs for mammoth paintings on view in the lobby of the met life building on park avenue,  are points in which the painted practice of Schnabel, as in the title credits are most crystalline and at hand.




Another character that deserves mention in this commentary of Miral is the inanimate protagonist of the vernacular architecture of the Region. Architecture has its tear-jerking monologue in the sequence where Miral and friend are instructing at a refugee settlement when a condemned concrete multi family house is demolished. You cant fake that house falling down, this realness of the Israeli soldiers the Palestinian extras on-looking, two trained actors as plants to dramatize the whole scene tying back into the cohesion of the fiction, is nothing short of brilliant, decidedly absent are computer generated imaging and digital extras, present are the buildings with a past, truly torn down on location the authentic people moving towards a W. Herzog position of bringing the boat over the mountain in the Amazon. In the service of fiction based on a true story the light, geography, location and man made structures are all authentic so as to have a fresh and independent, thereby more humane or comprehensive intuitive artists view of a region that saturates the media with flat images of conflict. by craniv boyd. 

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