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Freida Pinto stars in Miral, a Palestinian story 'they tried to stop'

Freida Pinto, the Indian actress of Slumdog Millionaire fame, plays a Palestinian teen in Miral, a movie its distributor says 'they tried to stop.'

By Derrik J. LangAssociated Press / March 26, 2011

Freida Pinto is shown in a scene from Miral.

Jose Haro/The Weinstein Company/AP

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During the making of "Miral," a coming-of-age tale about a teenaged Palestinian girl, a profound moment occurred for director Julian Schnabel as he was filming in a convent outside of Jerusalem. Sirens sounded and everyone on set — men, women, Palestinians, Israelis and otherwise — suddenly stopped for several minutes of silence.

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"There was a pool of humanity at that moment that was in sync," recalled Schnabel. "It was powerful."

He didn't know it at the time, but Schnabel was experiencing an Israeli tradition that's part of Yom HaShoah, a memorial day in remembrance of the millions of Jews killed during the Holocaust. While everyone on set remained mum for that moment of silence, other folks have been anything but quiet about his film in the months leading up to its release.

After the movie was screened at the Venice Film Festival last year, some critics dubbed "Miral," which is based on the semi-autobiographical novel about four Palestinian women by journalist — and Schnabel's girlfriend — Rula Jebreal, as pro-Palestinian propaganda. Others questioned the casting of Indian-born actress Freida Pintoof "Slumdog Millionaire" fame in the title role.

"The story remains a muddle of melodramatic gestures, extraneous protagonists and blunt political talking points," Variety critic Justin Chang wrote after seeing the film at the festival. "Schnabel's attempts to compensate stylistically with his trademark smeary impressionistic visuals feel like auteurist doodles in the margins of an important subject."

Unlike most films about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "Miral" only focuses on Palestinians' stories. The film begins in 1948 after the United Nations instituted the two-state system and chronicles the opening of the Dar Al-Tifel Institute in East Jerusalem, an orphanage for Palestinian children founded by Hind Husseini (played by Hiam Abbass).

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