24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Julian Schnabel

Julian Schnabel: 'Miral' is now shorter, more appealing

March 15, 2011 | 12:36 pm

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



Screening of Miral at the United Nations draw protests

Miral courts controversy ahead of its U.S. screenings

Miral director Julian Schnabel: I'm confounded by the ideological criticisms

 Photo: Freida Pinto in "Miral." Credit: The Weinstein Co.


[Updated] 'Miral' courts controversy ahead of its U.S. premiere at the United Nations

March 14, 2011 | 11:53 am

Monday night's U.S. premiere of "Miral," director Julian Schnabel's film tracking a young Palestinian girl's relationship with terrorism and Israel following the 1948 war for Israeli independence, has encountered a wave of controversy, with the American Jewish Committee calling on the U.N. General Assembly president to cancel its screening at U.N. headquarters in New York.

The American Jewish Committee believes the film portrays Israel negatively. In a letter to the world body, AJC Executive Director David Harris said showing the film in the U.N. General Assembly hall "will only serve to reinforce the already widespread view that Israel simply cannot expect fair treatment in the U.N." 

Schnabel, an American Jew, along with the film's Jewish-American distributor, Harvey Weinstein, are rejecting the charges of bias and have invited AJC representatives to Monday's premiere.  "We are surprised and saddened that the American Jewish Committee would prejudge 'Miral' and move to block the showing of the film," said the movie's producer Jon Kilik. "We made this film in order to encourage the very dialogue that the AJC seems to want to prevent. We hope the AJC will come to the premiere instead of trying to cancel it."

Schnabel, who shot the movie in Jerusalem and the West Bank, added, "I love the state of Israel. I believe in it, and my film is about preserving it, not hurting it. Understanding is part of the Jewish way, and Jewish people are supposed to be good listeners. But if we don't listen to the other side, we can never have peace."

"Miral" is based on the autobiographical novel of Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal and stars "Slumdog Millionaire" actress Freida Pinto. The film centers on Miral, who grew up, like Jebreal, in an orphanage in East Jerusalem that was founded by a wealthy Palestinian woman. The film traces the two women's lives from the beginnings of the orphanage to the Oslo peace accords in 1993. The film played at the Venice and Toronto film festivals last year.

According to AJC spokesman Kenneth Bandler, no one from the AJC will attend the U.N. premiere, which they believe is the first film to be screened in the main hall of the general assembly. (The documentary "Sergio," about former U.N. special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in Iraq, screened at the headquarters several years ago.)

[Update: AJC's representative in Italy, Lisa Palmieri-Billig, saw "Miral" in Venice last September and reviewed it here for the Jerusalem Post.

Jean-Victor Nkolo, spokesman for the president of the General Assembly, confirmed that Joseph Deiss, the president of the General Assembly, saw the film a few months ago during a private screening. "He liked it and thought it could contribute to a useful and interesting discussion on a topic that has gone on for so long," Nkolo said. He said that hosting a premiere at the United Nations was not such an unusual occurrence, though he was unable to name another film that had premiered at the headquarters. "We see screenings here as a venue," he added. "The film has to defend itself. It's a work of art."

Following the screening Monday night, Dan Rather is to moderate a panel discussion featuring Schnabel, Jebreal, journalist Mona Eltahawy and Yonatan Shapira, co-founder of Combatants for Peace and a former captain in the Israeli Air Force Reserves, who in 2003 organized a group of pilots who refused to fly attack missions on Palestinian territories. Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of Clal, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, will also be part of the conversation.]

"Miral" will bow in U.S. theaters on March 25. The ratings board of the Motion Picture Assn. of America  granted it a PG-13 rating last week on appeal over its initial R rating for violent content, including the depiction of sexual assault.

— Nicole Sperling

Photo: Freida Pinto and Omar Metwally in Julian Schnabel's 'Miral.' Credit: Jose Haro/the Weinstein Co.


'Miral' director confounded by ideological criticisms

Rating for 'Miral' goes from R to PG-13

Rating for 'Miral' goes from R to PG-13

March 10, 2011 |  4:06 pm

The kids can see "Miral" after all.

Julian Schnabel's  historical piece about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has had its rating downgraded from an R to a PG-13 after an appeal from distributor the Weinstein Co.

A person familiar with the appeal who was not authorized to speak about it said the debate turned on an early moment in the film when a middle-aged man assaults a young girl at her home; the assault is strongly implied but occurs out of the frame of the movie.  It's a dramatically important scene, setting in motion a critical chain of events for one of the main characters.

In announcing the decision Thursday afternoon, the Motion Picture Assn. of America said that the movie would now be given the PG-13 for “thematic material, and some violent content including a sexual assault.”

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal, who grew up in the orphanage,"Miral" is not expected to cater to a teenage audience, though the ratings decision does remove the stigma that can come with an R.

Schnabel, however, said that he thought young people would see and respond to the movie. "Teenagers are the intended audience for Miral’s story," he said in a statement. "I am very happy the MPAA proved to be open minded and ultimately agreed.”

Schnabel's movie, his first since he was nominated for an Oscar for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," concerns the journey of a Palestinian woman who runs an orphanage in Jerusalem's Old City as well as the lives of some of her wards, including the title character (played at one stage of her life by Freida Pinto). The movie, which premiered at the Venice and Toronto films festivals to mixed reviews,  opens commercially on March 25.

The overturn marks the second time Harvey Weinstein has won in front of the MPAA appeals board in recent months. In December, he succeeded in getting the board to give the romantic drama "Blue Valentine" an R instead of an NC-17.

It's the group's first overturn of the new year; earlier, David Schwimmer's "Trust" saw its R upheld on appeal. The appeals board comprises industry members and other Hollywood professionals, a different group than the parent-centric body that hands out the initial ratings.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: A scene from "Miral." Credit: The Weinstein Co.

'Miral' director Julian Schnabel: I'm confounded by the ideological criticisms 

With 'Miral,' Harvey Weinstein jumps into the Palestinian-Israeli fray

A new Harvey Weinstein?


Toronto 2010: 'Miral' director Julian Schnabel: I'm confounded by the ideological criticisms

September 17, 2010 |  9:30 am

Beginning with its premiere at the Venice Film Festival and continuing here in Toronto, Julian Schnabel's "Miral" has gotten people talking -- or, in some cases, kvetching. Reviewers have raised issues about the film's shape and dramatic depth -- "'Miral' is structured primarily around an issue, and none of its four protagonists emerges with much of an inner life," read the Variety review -- while at one screening in Toronto, there was rustling from a few filmgoers over the balance between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian politics.

Based on a semi-autobiographical novel from 30-something Palestinian Rula Jebreal, the movie follows a group of Palestinians during the region's tumultuous 1947-48 period as well during the first intifada in 1987. It principally tracks the interwoven stories of two people. Hind (Hiam Abbas) is a quiet idealist in Jerusalem's Old City who takes in several dozen displaced Palestinian children in the aftermath of the 1948 war, founding an orphanage where thousands will be raised in the decades that follow. Meanwhile, Miral (Freida Pinto, playing the part of the author) is a girl raised in the orphanage, and who later feels the allure of radical ideology during the 1987 intifada.

We sat down with Schnabel -- whose previous film, the French-language drama "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," was a Toronto hit that went on to earn him a best director Oscar nomination -- in a multiplex here earlier this week. On one of the screens just down the hall his movie was being screened (to mixed reaction, as it turned out). We asked the outspoken director and artist how he felt about the Middle East generally and about the film's critics.

You've said you don't really see this as a message film -- but were there indeed points you were trying to convey, especially to an American audience?

It's my responsibility, if I'm painting a portrait of somebody, to try to get it as accurate as possible. They stand in front of me and I try not to respond to what I think of them. It's the light hitting your cheek that's going to form the drawing. With a film, my portrait has to be accurate to the book that I'm describing. It's not my point of view.

But of course you did choose to make this book into a film, and you and Rula (who wrote the screenplay) made choices in how you translated it to the screen.

The choice that I made was that I want people to understand each other. If you don't take a step in the other guy's shoes and admit there's something to talk about, nothing's going to get solved, ever.

There are some scenes in the film that suggest a very specific attitude on your part about Israeli military actions. What informed those choices?

I tried not to protect or sugarcoat certain things. I've seen the kind of coldness or irretractibility [sic] that soldiers in that situation have. Those things affect the psyche of these kids [the soldiers]. These are things they're going to have live with the rest of their lives. They're doing them not because they want to do it but because they have to.

Did that stir up conflicting feelings for you as a Jew? And are you worried some might call you a Jewish Uncle Tom?

My mother is a president of Hadassah. I've always been rooting for the Jews. And I still am. But I think the way to do it is to understand the neighbors. It's all about respecting people.

Are you surprised, then, that people are asking you the balance question?

Yes. The fact is I'm telling the story of a 16-year-old Palestinian girl. It's not where somebody says, "Is it a pro-Palestinian movie?" It's a Palestinian movie. There's a difference. It's about Palestinian people. And they're not all the same. One guy's an activist. One woman is a terrorist. One woman is a teacher. Another is a gardener, trying to help his daughter. It's all about trying to navigate that.

What was your experience with the Middle East apart from what you learned on the set?

My mom said, 'Go to Israel. You're going to have that special feeling.' Every Jewish mother says that. I went to get the feeling, and in talking to some guy [who worked] at the airport about my relationship with Rula, I said she was my girlfriend. "How many times do you see your girlfriend a week," [he asked]. "OK, step over here." My mom said when I came to Israel I'd have that special feeling. I don't think this is the feeling she was talking about.

Even though you're simply telling the story of a group of people who are, at most, swept up in the politics of others, it does feel like you want to effect some kind of change with the film, particularly with a closing shot of Yitzhak Rabin at a peace rally. To what degree do you see this as activist filmmaking?

My parents instilled in me the idea that I was a free person and that I had the right to speak, and if I did, I can try to help other people. If you don't say anything, you're just as guilty as the torturer. Maybe that's the wrong word here. You're just as guilty -- what's the better word -- you just can't watch something that's a violation of human rights and not do anything about it. It's pro-peace. It's pro-humanity. I think the movie is about the battle between humanity and ideology. I'm for humanness all the time.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Freida Pinto in "Miral." Credit: The Weinstein Co.

A new Harvey Weinstein?

July 28, 2010 |  4:53 pm

Looking at the Weinstein Co.'s official fall slate, which landed in our in box a few hours ago, we were struck by just how art house it all felt.

To read the mini-major's upcoming releases in succession is to read the program guide for the Sunset Laemmle -- a lot of very solid, but nonetheless small, movies. There's a British biopic about the young John Lennon ("Nowhere Boy"). A Julian Schnabel Palestinian-themed historical drama ("Miral"). A Swedish-language thriller ("Snabba Cash"). A performance-driven  romantic drama ("Blue Valentine"). An assassin movie set in ancient China ("Reign of Assassins").  A story about the reign and speech impediment of King George VI ("The King's Speech").

The most commercial release on the slate is "The Company Men," the executive-layoff drama directed by John Wells and starring Ben Affleck. And that's hardly a major work of populist entertainment --  it had a solid cast but sat for several months without a distributor after Sundance as buyers worried about its relatability.

(Notably not dated is "Shanghai," the pricey John Cusack period war movie that was considered a high-profile release ... in 2008.)

The slate seems even more niche when read alongside the headlines about Ron Tutor and Colony Capital closing a deal with Disney to acquire the bigger-budget breakouts of years past.

With his fall lineup, Harvey has kept his word about returning to the movies he's passionate about; of the roughly half we've seen, they're all noble undertakings, and all of them radiate that air of accessible prestige he practically invented. Now that he's been forced to cut costs, he can afford to distribute just these types of films,  since there's much less pressure for a big box-office return.

In fact, all but one of these films are movies he picked up after they were made, which means he had a lot less financial risk, if also a lot less control over how they turned out. (It should be noted that the Weinsteins  have benefited from the closure of some of their competitors, who might have otherwise chased a "Miral" or a "Blue Valentine"; Harvey may have run short on cash, but so did a lot of other people, which has allowed him to buy some pretty good movies at pretty low prices).

But with all that cost-cutting, he's also not able to make as many brash or bold statements. Compared to the bigger-budget Harvey of the immediate post-Disney days, the heyday Harvey of the  "English Patient" days or even the 2009  Harvey, when the late summer and fall were filled with splashier movies such as "Inglourious Basterds" and "Nine," this slate feels downright boutique. The strategy of the last few years -- put a lot of chips down on a few big productions -- seems to have given way to something different: Scatter one or two chips on a lot of small movies and hope one of them gets big.

Some of them indeed might (here's hoping for "Blue Valentine," an astoundingly well-made chronicle of a couple's demise). But it's no guarantee in this climate.

At the very least, these films will ride a wave of goodwill, since nearly all of them have come out of some festival buzz or early media interest, the kind of movies chased by the heat-seeking Harvey.  Some things, we suppose, never change.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine." Credit: The Weinstein Co.

With 'Miral,' Harvey Weinstein jumps into the Israeli-Palestinian fray

Cannes 2010: The Euros love 'Blue Valentine' like Nutella

'Blue Valentine': Finally, a Sundance drama that works

Toronto lineup suggests indie crisis has affected quantity, not quality

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

With 'Miral,' Harvey Weinstein jumps into the Israeli-Palestinian fray

June 8, 2010 | 11:20 am

It almost seems so perfect, it's a wonder it hadn't happened already.

Provocative filmmaker Julian Schnabel, taking on a provocative subject, will again be working with industry  provocateur Harvey Weinstein.

MiralThe Weinstein Co. announced this morning that it would domestically distribute "Miral," Schnabel's film about the founding of a Palestinian orphanage in 1948 and the evolution of a young Palestinian woman at the dawn of the first intifada. (Rula Jebreal adapted the screenplay from her own novel, which is partly inspired by true events.)

Schnabel had previously worked with the new Miramax, which released his "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" to Oscar acclaim in 2007, but goes back to his roots with this film: Harvey (in a very different time) released Schnabel's directorial debut, "Basquiat," in 1996.

With Freida Pinto as the lead, "Miral" examines the founding of the Dar Al-Tifel Institute orphanage for Palestinian refugees in 1948, and then flashes forward to Pinto's character, who was raised in the orphanage, as a young woman in the early 1990s, when she goes to work in a refugee camp, where she is caught in a quandary between violent and peaceful means of resistance. It's probably the most mainstream film project to take a Palestinian point of view on the genesis and modern aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"As a staunch supporter of Israel I thought this would be a movie I would have a hard time wrapping my head around," Weinstein said in a statement. "However, meeting Rula moved me to open my heart and mind, and I hope we can do the same with audiences worldwide.”

Reports from Movieline and others have focused on the irony of Weinstein, an an "Israel loyalist," picking up the film. The coverage is a little perplexing -- Harvey certainly isn't known as a staunch pro-Palestinian advocate, but it's not like he's out there on the AIPAC front lines (he is, however, a heat-seeking missile when it comes to topical and buzz-worthy movies).

Still, Schnabel and Weinstein, both well-known as strong personalities, should have some interesting debates in the cutting room and at the marketing meetings. Given the stubbornness of their visions, there may be fireworks worthy of, well, a Middle Eastern conflict.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: The "Miral" book jacket. Credit: Penguin Books

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: