Julian Schnabel is a multi-faceted artist, starting his career as a painter, crafting dense, textured canvases which intoxicated the eye, gradually moving on to films, practicing music in between.
He has shown himself to be a gifted, one of a kind cineaste, shaping the way we see biographical dramas and the tenuous filter between life and the screen. Basquiat announced his arrival with a lived in, perceptive portrayal of the acclaimed 80s painter. Before Night Falls was gorgeous and genuine in its retelling of the life of a gay Cuban novelist stifled under the richness and perverse politics of his country, garnering Javier Bardem his first Academy Award nomination. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was his most acclaimed film to date, a sinuously filmed story of a man coping with paralysis, garnering Schnabel an Academy Award nomination as Best Director.
All of his works are bound together as visually ravishing biopics portraying marginalized characters within a specifically stultifying cultural milieu, and his latest, the brilliant Miral, is no exception. Inspired by true events and adapted from the acclaimed novel, Schnabel controversially portrays the Israeli-Palestinian divide, from the Palestine perspective, over forty years.
Yes, it is an overly ambitious task, but he triumphs with a multi-layered piece which functions first as a human drama, secondly as a political essay, touching on misogyny in Arabic society, religious hypocracy,police terror and political activism. Freida Pinto(Slumdog Millionaire) gets her best role yet and runs with it, delivering a deeply insulated turn. Schnabel frames Miral's tumultuous coming of age with the stories of several other women fated by their sex for spinsterhood,prison and death. Their fierce fights against gender roles and political oppression inform Miral's revolutionary awakening to fight for what she knows is right, not to lie down like most and be a helpless victim.
Schnabel's eye and heart are sharper than ever. His form is impeccable, his structure indelible, enveloping some of the most haunting and beauteous images and sequences I've seen for some time. A rape scene from the victim's POV and a suicide sequence in the dark swallowing sea are imprinted in my mind's eye, as is a feverish closeup of a bellydancer's shaking, sweat speckled navel.
The cast is superb, especially Alexander Siddig, Hiam Abbass and Omar Metwally, Eric Gautier's cinematography heavenly, constructing with Schnabel his richest, purest work as a filmmaker.