Dir: Antonia Bird. UK.2004.100mins
Is the world ready for a dispassionate account of theterrorist cell behind the 9/11 atrocities' Is it possible to understand thehuman impulses behind such unconscionable actions'
Those are just two of thequestions prompted by The Hamburg Cell, a fastidious, open-mindeddrama-documentary recreating the events that led to the attack on the TwinTowers in 2001. A brave film for anyone to make, it becomes as tense as afictional thriller but leaves lingering doubts that it tells us any more thanwe might have gleaned from a straightforward documentary.
A world premiere atEdinburgh is followed by a UK television transmission on September 2. Potentialaudience unease with the subject matter suggests it is likely to remain a Festivalitem and television talking-point.
Based on the "known factsand actual events", the low-key script by Ronan Bennett and Alice Pearmanbegins on September 11, 2001 at an airport. Ziad Jarrah (Saleh) makes aphonecall to his wife and leaves a message in which he keeps repeating thewords "I love you". The narrative then flips back to 1996, when the LebaneseZiad arrives in Germany as a student. A secular Muslim, he is more interestedin pursuing the beautiful Aysel (Tsangaridou) than involving himself with thecampus radicals who urge him to make God the centre of his world.
Eventually, he attends aprayer meeting (for reasons that remain unclear) and finds his valueschallenged and transformed by his acceptance of Islamic fundamentalism. Thefilm follows his conversion to the cause of the jihad and his double-life as hemarries Aysel whilst gaining his pilot1s licence and secretly preparing to playhis part in the events of September 11.
The Hamburg Cell also focuses on Mohamed Atta (Kamel) and his belief that dying fortheir cause will strike fear in the heart of America and ensure his ownentrance into paradise.
Tightly structured, certainearly sections of The Hamburg Cellfeel like a political lecture as beliefs are stated and opposition is dismissed.
Momentum gathers are eventsare compressed and the narrative moves closer to the key date. Titles identifydates, names and locations. Information is supplied on the number of occasionsthat American intelligence might have stopped the unthinkable but chose toignore reports and suspicions. Despite knowing the outcome of the story,suspense builds in the manner of a thriller like The Day Of The Jackal.
The Hamburg Cell is compelling, provocative viewing but once itincorporates news reports and footage of the day it begins to feel as if it hasoverstepped the mark. There is a distinct feeling of discomfort as we are onceagain confronted with the terrible images of the crumbling Twin Towers andterror on the streets of New York.
Blurring the line betweendocumenting the facts and dramatising the motives ultimately creates anunsettling experience.
Prod co: Mentorn Productions
Int'l sales: Channel 4International
Exec prods: David Aukin, GeorgeCarey
Prod: Finola Dwyer
Scr: Ronan Bennett, Alice Perman
Cine: Florian Hoffmeister
Ed: St John O'Rorke
Mus: Adrian Corker, Paul Conboy
Main cast: Karim Saleh, Kamel,Omar Berdouni, Adnan Maral, Agni Tsangaridou