Shortly after 9/11/01 someone named Alain Brigand had the idea to hire 11 directors from different countries to make 11-minute movies in reaction to the atrocity. They would have complete artistic control. The result came out on 9/11/02, and is now available on DVD. Most of them are quite good, and one is devastating.
Naturally, there have been objections that some are anti-American, but I don’t really see much of that in evidence. Many of them relate 9/11 to other atrocities, and I don’t see anything wrong with that, and none of them in any way denigrate the deaths of the people in the towers or on the planes or at the Pentagon. There is a perspective to be had here. In fact, awful as it was, 9/11 was not the most horrific event in human history; not even of the 20th Century. But it is still so fresh, so raw, the images so far beyond what we are accustomed to seeing in less-photographed, more ongoing horrors, that it sticks a knife in my gut and twists it, and probably always will.
If you want to be surprised by the segments, stop reading here.
Samira Makhmalbaf, “God, Construction and Destruction” (segment “Iran”) A quietly thoughtful and sensitive piece concerning a young teacher of Afghan refugee children in Iran trying to explain to her very young students what has happened on this day. They don’t understand much. Their lives are pretty bleak, but standing in the shadow of a huge smokestack they seem to begin to get a glimmering.
Claude Lelouch (segment “France”) Maybe a bit too pat, but very moving. A deaf woman living near the towers is unaware of what is happening just down the street until her lover, who she thinks is breaking up with her, turns up at her door covered in dust.
Youssef Chahine (segment “Egypt”) Not very good, and not because it inserts stuff about American crimes into its odd little story about the ghost of an American Marine killed in the bombing of the barracks in Beirut, but because it shoves that stuff in awkwardly, and doesn’t really make its point. Muddled, at best.
Danis Tanovic (segment “Bosnia-Herzegovina”) A very good one. A woman in Bosnia prepares to go on her daily protest march with other loved ones of people who have vanished into the Serbian holocaust, like the “disappeared ones” in Argentina. When she joins the others they are all hearing about the fall of the towers. She is devastated, they all are, but she doesn’t see why they should cancel their march. Eventually, the others agree, and they march silently through the streets. Life goes on, such as it is.
Idrissa Ouedraogo (segment “Burkina Faso”) The only one with a touch of humor, and it’s pretty bitter humor. A boy in this very poor country needs money to pay for school books and medicine for his mother, who is very sick. He hears of the $25 million reward for Osama bin Laden, then spots a guy who is a dead ringer. He and his friends decide to capture him, but he gets away. Then they hear that George W. Bush is coming to Ouagadougou, and they decide to kidnap him and hold him for ransom.
Ken Loach (segment “United Kingdom”) A very poignant and bitter one, and a story that needed to be told in just this way. A Chilean exile in England is writing a letter to Americans, feeling terrible about their loss, but pointing out that on another Tuesday, September 11, CIA-supported troops murdered Salvador Allende and overthrew his democratically elected government. America’s murderous puppet, Pinochet, eventually killed over 30,000 Chileans. Put it in perspective, America! The slaughter in Chile wasn’t photogenic, and we actually have that blood on our hands. Seeing Kissinger shaking hands with the murdering bastard made me want to puke.
Alejandro González Iñárritu (segment “Mexico”) Here’s the masterpiece. Before Michael Moore thought of “showing” the collisions and collapse on a black screen with just the horrific sounds, González Iñárritu made this short film. Several minutes go by before we see anything at all, we just hear a confusion of voices. Then we get six- or eight-frame glimpses of people falling through the air, and the indescribably awful sound of their impact. The soundtrack resolves into understandable voices, phone calls from doomed people, chaotic chatter of the rescuers, then the sound that will be with me until the day I die, the inexorable slam slam slam slam slam of the floors collapsing onto each other, the last sound too many brave cops and firefighters and innocents ever heard on this Earth. Devastating. For more from González Iñárritu, see Amores Perros.
Amos Gitai (segment “Israel”) (as Amos Gitaï) A foolish little piece about a truly awful television reporter lucky enough to be on the scene of a suicide car bombing in Jerusalem—my big break!—and her stunned reaction when she learns that she is not on the air, live, because something has happened in New York. I have no idea what the point is here.
Mira Nair (segment “India”) Based on a true story. An Arab woman’s son is missing after 9/11. The FBI comes calling. Obviously he was in on it somehow. Her neighbors start to shun her. Then his remains are identified in the wreckage. He rushed toward the towers to help out and died while giving first aid. What a terrible disservice those 19 fanatical monsters did to honest, peaceful Arabs and Muslims around the world. And how easily do we turn to racial and religious hatred.
Sean Penn (segment “USA”) Puerile little fable about a senile old man who dresses his dead wife’s imaginary body every morning and laments that her flowers don’t grow. They don’t get enough light. Then the towers fall, and let in the light. He never knows it, he just sees the flowers growing again. Sounds a lot better than it is. Really stinks. [At the end of it Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” starting playing in my head. Penn should stick to acting and being a Hollywood Liberal, which is what he’s really good at.]
Shohei Imamura (segment “Japan”) The most puzzling segment. Very well done, but … It’s 1945. A Japanese soldier has gone nuts and been shipped home, thinking he’s a snake. His relatives despair to see him eating live rats. It ends with a bumper sticker “There is no such thing as a holy war.” Agreed, and there have to be a billion ways to say it. Why this one? Over the top, for me.