As it garners some much-needed press over a controversial screening at the United Nations, Julian Schnabel's Palestinian drama "Miral" also is looking to get a break for another reason: It's a different movie than the one critics and reporters saw in the fall.
Originally intended as a December release and 2010 awards contender, the personal-as-political tale quickly found itself in a pickle when it played the Venice and Toronto film festivals: It was a review-driven movie that wasn't getting very good reviews.
Writing in Variety in September, Justin Chang noted that "Schnabel's signature blend of splintered storytelling and sobering humanism feels misapplied to this sweeping multi-generational saga of four Arab women living under Israeli occupation, the youngest of which, Miral, emerges a bland totem of hope rather than a compelling movie subject ... at a certain point, the characters begin speaking almost exclusively in soundbites." The Guardian later said that the film had gotten itself into a "terrible muddle" with its focus on disparate characters.
"Miral's" U.S. release date was pushed back as distributor the Weinstein Co. focused on its other award contenders. The Freida Pinto-starring film is now coming out in the relative quiet of March, opening in limited release next weekend.
Schnabel says the movie that will play theaters is not the same movie that pundits judged in the fall. The director tells 24 Frames that his political tale -- which is based on the coming-of-age memoir of girlfriend Rula Jebreal -- is now a full 13 minutes shorter, which takes it from nearly two hours to 1 hour and 39 minutes.
Gone is the archival footage of post-Oslo Accord celebrations from the end of a film, as well a funeral at the movie's opening that sets the tone for one of the film's key subjects. "It stays more with the characters instead of the topic," Schnabel said.
A film can sometimes contract as it moves from festival to commercial theater, although a cut of 13 minutes is decidedly on the larger end of the spectrum. (The director said he collaborated with Harvey Weinstein, who is known for a proactive approach in the editing room, in making the trims. "He has excellent ideas, and I tried some different things," Schnabel said.)
Without singling anyone out, Schnabel said that he was irked by the early coverage, some of which pondered the idea of an Indian actress playing a Palestinian character. "I read some pretty stupid reviews, where people said silly things about Freida," Schnabel said. "If you saw her and Rula, they could be sisters."
Schnabel said that the critical ambivalence was counterbalanced for him by "beautiful comments from people I respect" such as directors Jonathan Demme, Bernardo Bertolucci and Milos Forman.
As for why his film was generating controversy -- as my colleagues Melissa Maerz and Nicole Sperling report, several Jewish groups protested the U.N. screening last night -- Schnabel chalked it up to kneejerk politics. "I think this is a hot topic, and you press that button and people go crazy. That's a huge reason why I made the movie. Because somebody needs to make this film."
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Freida Pinto in "Miral." Credit: The Weinstein Co.