A Fired-Up Schnabel Gets Political

By Gopnik, Blake | Newsweek, March 21, 2011 | Go to article overview

A Fired-Up Schnabel Gets Political


Gopnik, Blake, Newsweek


Byline: Blake Gopnik

The Artist's new movie, about generations of suffering among palestinian women, gives a history lesson that not everyone wants to hear.

If you wanted TO make a movie about a larger-than-life painter, you'd cast Julian Schnabel in the title role. Big, bearded, and graying, Schnabel lives in a neo-Venetian palazzo in Greenwich Village. He favors a decor that hovers between faded royalty and Roman brothel. Receiving a journalist at noon on a Monday, he wears his trademark pajamas, this time purple with green piping. His glasses are tinted yellow because, he says, "the world is a little too blue for me."

Your movie just might make some money. Cliches sell.

The one director you wouldn't be able to get for your project would be Julian Schnabel. The movies he's made over the last 15 years have been noted for their subtlety, not their banality. They offer complex visions of a young artist dead before his time, of a persecuted gay poet, and of a bon vivant felled by stroke. That last film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, won Schnabel the best-director prize at Cannes.

But his new movie, Miral, is in a more declamatory mode. It charts a half century of Palestinian women coping with conflict. "I felt compelled to make this movie because it seemed the right thing to do," he says. "I put a mirror up to everybody--to the Palestinians and the Israelis." Yet some critics have complained that Schnabel's mirror is slanted--toward the Palestinians.

The movie begins in 1948, with the founding of a school for war-orphaned Palestinian girls. It continues through the 1960s, following a rape victim who takes her own life. Its third act follows that woman's daughter, Miral, who dabbles with extremism and, as the movie closes, is setting off for a career in Italy. The character of Miral is an avatar of Rula Jebreal, whose 2004 autobiography inspired the script. Schnabel met her in Rome, when she was 34 and he was 56, and agreed to film her book. The two became a couple, and Jebreal eventually moved to America, displacing Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Schnabel's second wife.

The filmmaker gets incensed at anyone who claims there's fiction in his new inamorata's story. At one screening, he says, Barbra Streisand questioned the film's account of a whipping Jebreal received. …

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