Directors: various. France. 2002. 135mins
Trailing controversy and accusations of a vicious anti-American sensibility, portemanteau production 11'09''01 proves to be a much more measured, wide-ranging and humanist response to the events of September 11, 2001. Commissioned to make a short film, eleven directors of international standing have created a collection of work that spans the globe and a spectrum of emotions from bitter irony to anguish and poignancy. Inevitably in such an undertaking the final feature is uneven in quality and tenor. Cumulatively it builds into a gruelling, fairly exhausting experience. The subject matter and the talent involved guarantees column inches and audience interest, but this will still be a hard commercial prospect. Given complete freedom of expression and left to create a film running eleven minutes and nine seconds, the filmmakers have all contributed films indicative of the style and preoccupations that have run throughout the careers, whether just beginning in the case of Danis Tanovic or in full maturity like Ken Loach.
The film begins with the offering from Samira Makhmalbaf in which a teacher tries to explain the attack to a group of schoolchildren before staging a one minute silence in front of a smoking chimney. Claude Lelouch offers a love story in miniature as a deaf woman's partner in caught up in the events of the day. Inevitably, the most contentious entry will be Youssef Chahine's perspective from the Middle East in which he dares to bracket the deaths of an American marine and a suicide bomber together to illustrate the point that we are all the victims of human stupidity and that America has a fair share of guilt on its conscience over Vietnam, El Salvador and Hiroshima. Danis Tanovic elaborates on that theme, capturing the monthly memorials of the massacre at Srebrinca in 1985 as his point of comparison. Idrissa Ouedraogo lightens the mood considerably with a charming, Ealing-style tale of a group of children who believe they have spotted Osama Bin Laden in Burkina Faso and speculate on how they would spend the $25m reward attached to his head.
The best segment in the entire collection comes from Ken Loach. His incisive, sharply focused eleven minutes tell of a Chilean exile in London who writes to the families of those who died on September 11 reminding them that it was on that same day in 1973 that the Nixon administration staged a coup d'etat in his country in which 30,000 were murdered. He offers to remember their anniversary, if they will honour his. Completely different in style, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's segment is the most visceral as the screen turns from pitch black to blinding, bright light interspersed with flashes of people jumping from the Towers and a soundtrack of voices, prayers and music. He asks the telling question of whether God's light guides us or blinds us.
The global impact of events is underlined by Amos Gitai's modest contribution in which a car bomb on the streets of Tel Aviv pales into insignificance in the pecking order of news events. Mira Nair tells a true story of a Pakistan-born American citizen demonised in the wake of the events but then deified when it was discovered that he lost his life racing to the scene of the first attack determined to offer help. A touching performance from Ernest Borgnine illuminates Sean Penn's story of a lonely New York widower oblivious to what is happening outside his front window whilst a bizarre, obscure tale from Shohei Imamura of a soldier turned snake ends the marathon viewing with the timely conclusion "there is no such thing as a Holy War".
Prod co: Galatee Films/Studio Canal
Int'l Sales: Wild Bunch
Prods: Jacques Perrin, Nicolas Mauverny
Exec prod: Jean de Tregomain.