September 11 (2002)

Genres - Avant-garde / Experimental, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Essay Film  |   Release Date - Jul 18, 2003 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 134 min.  |   Countries - Egypt, United Kingdom, United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Josh Ralske

11'09"01 - September 11 proves that even the most talented and insightful artists are not always up to the task at hand. Not that these filmmakers, left to their own devices, would necessarily have tried to address the events of that tragic day, particularly such a short time after the fact. But French producer Alain Brigand asked them, and how many artists would turn down such a challenge? The most useless responses range from too fey and oblique (Sean Penn's excessively modest weepie, starring Ernest Borgnine; Claude Lelouch's engagingly staged, but mildly inappropriate romantic comedy) to too bombastically immediate (Alejandro González Iñárritu's borderline-offensive docu-trauma). Other filmmakers (Danis Tanovic, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Amos Gitai) attempt to link the tragedy to their own countries' ongoing troubles, with mixed results. Gitai's formal rigor yields the most compelling of these segments. To dismiss the entire work as anti-American, as some have done, is wrongly reductive. Most of these filmmakers do have something valuable to say, and even those that are most critical of America's perceived self-interest couch their criticisms with sympathy for the victims of the terrorist attack. That said, Youssef Chahine's crude, self-congratulatory ghost story is still fairly insulting, despite its feeble effort at balance. However, Ken Loach's diatribe about U.S. involvement in Chile's own September 11 tragedy (voiced by Vladimir Vega) is harsh, but stated simply, powerfully, and undeniably. Samira Makhmalbaf offers a bittersweet, humanistic tale of a teacher trying to convey the scale of the tragedy to a class of Afghan refugee children. Mira Nair presents a useful, if somewhat obvious, true tale of a Muslim-American hero briefly mistaken for a terrorist. Perhaps Japanese master Shohei Imamura had the canniest approach. His dour segment's connection to the events of 9/11 is so tenuous that he could never be accused of crassness or insensitivity.