Robin CliffordThis outstanding omnibus is a French production featuring a short film from 11 global filmmakers. Their only guidelines were that the film be a reflection on 9/11 and that it be 11 minutes, 9 seconds and 1 frame in length.
Samira Makhmalbaf (Iran, "Blackboards") leads with a a schoolteacher trying to relay the meaning of 9/11 to her Afghani refuge students. Their innocence is charming and Makhmalbaf's final image, of the children gathered for a moment of silence beside a smoking kiln tower, is haunting. A
Claude Lelouch (France, "A Man and a Woman") looks at the event through the crumbling relationship of a deaf woman and her lover in New York City. The unhearing woman goes about her business in a lower Manhattan apartment while her lover returns from the events of the day a shattered, gray ghost. B+
Youssef Chahine (Egypt, "Cairo Station") casts an actor as himself, then has a discussion with the ghost of American soldier killed in the Beirut bombing. Chahine explains why a Middle Eastern Muslim would see a regular American citizen as a valid target - because that citizen lives in a self-elected democracy. Chahine's is one of two entries most likely to be accused of anti-Americanism, but it is a thought-provoking, if unevenly executed, piece. C+
Danis Tanovic (Bosnia-Herzegovina "No Man's Land") parallels the event with the tragedy of Srebrnica in Bosnia and the women who demonstrate on the 11th of each month. Tanovic's piece is simple, but registers emotionally as solidarity in human suffering. B
Idrissa Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso, "Afrique...Mon Afrique") wins for originality for his comedic tale of a group of young boys who try to capture Osama Bin Laden in their homeland for the $25 million reward. His sly underlying social commentary, contrasting the everyday struggles of a poor nation against one spectacular tragedy in the U.S., is a message gently, but firmly, delivered. A
Ken Loach (Great Britain, "My Name Is Joe") has a Chilean write a letter to the people of New York, empathizing with their tragedy by recounting the Tuesday, 9/11 in 1973 when his President Allende was assassinated followed by the murder of 30,000 civilians. Loach uses George Bush's words to indict U.S. involvement in the Chilean coup and its aftermath. A
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Mexico, "Amores Perros") uses a black screen and the sounds of the day in a horrifying montage occasionally jolted by a split second vision of a plane hitting the towers or a body tumbling from them. Inarritu ends his experimental short by questioning man's use of his religion to justify violent acts. A
Amos Gitai (Israel, "Kippour") does a cinema verite piece following a news team at the aftermath of a Jerusalem bombing whose air time is eclipsed by news from New York. B
Mira Nair (India, "Monsoon Wedding") tells the true story of a missing man suspected of being a terrorist who turns out to have been a hero through the eyes of his mother. This one is emotionally uninvolving despite its subject matter. C
Sean Penn (USA, "The Pledge") tells the tale of a lonely widower (Ernest Borgnine) who realizes the wife he still speaks to every day is dead when the towers' disappearance lets light into his apartment. Borgnine's terrific in this unexpectedly personal entry from Penn. B+
Shohei Imamura (Japan, "Warm Water Under a Red Bridge") delivers a head-scratcher about a Japanese WWII veteran who thinks he's a snake. Imamura's piece is too broad an anti-war statement to have relevance to the events of 9/11. D+
Although 11'09"01 ends on a flat note, the overall project has a strong impact. Although the film was famously accused of anti-Americanism in a Variety article preceding its debut at the 2002 Venice and Toronto film festivals, the producers should be commended for allowing all points of view, including those criticizing American international policy, to present different perspectives to the open minded.
On 11 September 2001 America and the world changed in such a way that any vestige of innocence that once existed came to an end. French producer Alain Brigand, in memoriam of this near-apocalyptic event, commissioned 11filmmakers from around the world to bring to film their thoughts and impressions of fateful day with each auteur given 11 minutes, 9 seconds and one frame to tell their story in "11'09"01 - September 11."
11 filmmakers from almost every continent - looking at the list I noticed the conspicuous absence of a South American 'maker - were assembled and given the task of recording their impressions of one of the most horrific events in American history, worse, in many ways, than the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The directors, given full control over their individual work, come from all sexes, ages, cultures and race and each put their own personal spin on the events of that tragic day - with some terrific interpretations. Not every on of the 11 pieces is a gem but there are some that will appeal to the audience more than others.
I had a number of favorites in this pastiche of film styles, political views and, sometimes, statements about the way the world is going. The most riveting of all the entries is Mexican helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu who chose to leave the screen at black for almost the entire time with just the audio of sound bites and newscasts of the horror and shock of that day punctuated with very brief moments of footage captured on tape and oh, so familiar to us all. The several frames of a body falling through space are, to use the old cliché, worth a thousand words. Inarritu evokes the most powerful images and does it with 99.9% of the film in black.
Charming Samira Makhmalbaf evokes a very different take on her entry for "September 11" with her story of a teacher in rural Afghanistan who is trying to teach her tiny wards about the recent events a half a world away in New York City. Since the concept of the enormity of the Twin Towers disaster is beyond the scope of the imagination of these little children, the teacher uses the village's focal point, the chimney of the kiln that makes the bricks for everyone, as her example of what happened. Instead of trying to make them understand the incomprehensible, she asks them to describe how bad the village would be harmed if the chimney toppled down. Makhmalbaf makes the explanation and description understandable for these children and, fortunately, us, too.
Idrissa Ouedraogo of Burkina Faso, Africa, tells an innocent and often-funny story about a group of 12-year olds who, after the terrorism of 11 September, become convinced that Osama bin Laden is hiding out in their country. One of the boys, whose mother is ill and needs expensive medicine, decides that he must capture this evil man and collect the $12-million reward. He enlists the help of his schoolmates and this proud group of warriors, armed with spear, sword, toy gun and video camera, head for their destiny. This is, by far, the most charming of the short stories told.
British director Ken Loach makes a striking comparison, in his contribution, that compares the deadly day in 2001 with another event that occurred on the same date (and with similar numbers of dead in its aftermath) - the overthrow of the elected government of Chile in 1973. He makes a statement about America's past policies and compares them to the outrage of the terrorist attack three decades later. This is a very "food for thought" piece and will appeal to us left-wing history buffs.
The other makers invited have works of varying degrees of appeal. Mira Nair tells an austere true-life story of an Indian man who is one of the many who disappeared in the explosive disaster of the crashing Towers. He is, unjustly, marked as one of the terrorist because he physically fit the profile. His mother would not accept this verdict and is vindicated when, as the dead are accounted for, it is discovered that her son, was, in fact, one of the heroes of the day, sacrificing his life for the sake of others. Sean Penn directs Ernest Borgnine in a melancholy tale about an old widower who never let go of his wife's presence long after her death. There is a bittersweet moment as, with the Tower's down, sunlight returns to his dim apartment but the enlightenment carries with it the realization of the truth.
Danis Tanovic, whose "No Man's Land" made such a powerful statement about the absurdity of war, tries to bring the 11 September event into the fold of the Bosnian civil war. Egyptian Youssef Chahine compares the attack on the Trade Center with America's incursion into Lebanon through the eyes of one of the dead Marines killed in the terrible barracks bombing that killed hundreds. Israeli director Amos Gitai tells the story of a Tel Aviv reporter at the scene of another terrorist bombing in the city's streets. As the police and emergency personnel leap to the fore, she is trying to get her producer to give her air time. She fights to be heard and, finally, is about to broadcast when she is preempted by another, more deadly bombing taking place in New York City.
French director Claude Lelouch lends an unusual perspective of events with a deaf French woman living with a guide for hearing impaired children. He is leading such a tour that day and she has the television on as we, not she, watch the terrible events unfold and feel the uncertainty of survival before she even realizes what had happened. Japanese auteur Shohei Imamura creates a metaphor involving the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and a return Imperial soldier who thinks he's a snake - this one gave me the most pause as I wondered what the heck Imamura means.
"September 11" is an imaginative collection of both newcomer and tried and true filmmakers who state their minds on that earth-shattering day in 2001. For the most part it reaches our hearts and minds. There have been many diatribes at the sometimes anti-US bent of some of the works but this is closed-minded thinking. If anything, the cowardly attack on innocents should reinforce our gratefulness of the Bill of Rights that protect our rights to have freedom, real freedom - speech, assembly and all others dictated in our Constitution.
"11'09"01 - September 11" is a work that has resonance even two years after that day. Some of the contributions have more impact than others but, in its total, is a work that should be seen by all. I give it a B+.
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