Eleven directors from 11 countries each contribute an 11-minute short reflecting on the events of 11 September 2001. A village teacher in Iran tries to explain to her young students what's happened. City kids in Burkina Faso think they've spotted Osama bin Laden. A deaf Frenchwoman in Manhattan writes a Dear John letter to a man who has left that morning for work at the World Trade Center. A Chilean remembers Allende. Events recall other deaths. A mother endures more than her son's death. And so on. The tone varies, as do the locales. Most stories are about others coming to terms with the events of the day, but at least one confronts the viewer with tragedy and death. Written by
Mothers, fathers and loved ones of those who died in New York, soon will be the 29th anniversary of our tuesday, 11th of September and the first anniversary of yours. We will remember you. I hope you will remember us.
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Put simply, I think this film is a masterpiece. To call it anti-American is quite arrogant and uneducated, as I feel it is, above all, extra-American, meaning it portrays an entire global community and the effect a single event in the world can have. As Americans, we are understandably still heartbroken over the tragedy and may never fully recover, but if we're smart then we need to see that an entire non-American culture exists outside our little bowl and can't be expected to react, sympathize, and contribute in the same way or in ways we'd like. If a family down the street from you loses a loved one, naturally you're going to feel bad for them, but if you never knew them you're not going to be grief stricken, and no one would expect you too. Furthermore, if you had prior resentment against that family, it would still surface and mar your ability to sympathize. Does that mean you're a bad person? Of course not. But it illustrates the relativity of the impact a tragic event can have on everyone.
For one, I thought this was best illustrated in the segments from Iran, England, Bosnia, and Burkina-Faso.
In Iran, we're introduced to children who are (summed up in the first minute of film) refugees from their home country, building brick buildings to survive potential bombings, and living in dirt. And yet they all giggle and laugh and go on as naive children. And, in all honesty, why should they be effected by September 11? Bosnia's short portrays a culture that has been under a state of perpetual grief for as long as they can remember, and they still march in defiant protest and solemn anger over the death of their loved ones. Sure, news of 9-11 effects them, but in a land this morose and unhappy it's as if they have no more grief to give. Burkina-Faso's, while funny, illustrated a good point: The children don't hunt down who they think is Bin Laden because they are angry and vengeful, they do it for the money. They are, beneath it all, capitalists, the difference being they wanted money for good cause, unlike our government who disgustingly capitalized on 9-11 for the patriotism agenda.
And, perhaps Loach's London segment was the most effective in that it was a tearful way of saying "I feel your pain...maybe you could feel ours..?" How many people (especially in my generation) really know about the horrific history of Chile, and moreso, that our government was behind it? Nowhere do I see Ken Loach saying "shame on you America!!!" (as many have interpreted), but rather I see a wounded survivor in a heartfelt request for the same empathy he has for us on September 11. I'm sure the murder of Allende means a lot more to Chileans than the WTC bombings ever will, just as WTC will always mean more to us than the murder of Allende..
I admired the Mexican segment as an auditory experience but (CURSES!) the projector broke down and the sound got out of sync, thus completely marring the effect. Egypt's segment was kind of lame in it's technique but brought up an EXTREMELY good point: We always label civilians innocent, and in many respects we are, but to a terrorist, since the U.S. and Israel are democracies, we (supposedly) elect the leaders who commit atrocities against their people. Therefore, we are not innocent. A warped perspective, yes, but a valuable insight into the mind of the enemy.
Emotionally I thought the French segment was the most brilliant, as it characterized the attitude of this whole film. Focusing on the woman's deafness we are put in her head and experience, for a brief moment, what it's like to be deaf, the same as we might experience what it's like to be foreign or non English speaking. And as an audio-visual experience it was unforgettable. Only when her boyfriend comes home does the effect of the tragedy really strike her, and it reminded me that we take our senses for granted. I would love to see an entire movie from a deaf perspective.
The two low points in this film were the American and Japanese. I admired Sean Penn's story but hated his technique. Split screens and repeat-frames are tastelessly self indulgent (key word here is indulgent) and the Japanese short, while clever and striking, felt rather out of place here. I get the "Holy War" statement but it's better suited for another film and another argument. The Indian segment, while also a touching story, was sadly unimaginative and more matter-of-fact. Israel's short, as a one-shot, was creative, but the characters were annoying and laughably exaggerated.
What this film allows is for us all to levitate above the planet and gaze down on an entire global culture and how a single event effects it. I'm sorry if Americans are offended and see this as "anti-American propaganda" but that speaks of just plain not getting it. Every nation and every culture is as guilty as we are innocent. But to believe our tragedies are superior and carry more weight sentimentally is wrong and the gross effect of isolation and nationalism. We confine ourselves inside nations and borders and collective mentalities and forget that beneath (or perhaps above) all the ideology, we're all human beings and deserve to be treated as such.
A marvelous, unforgettable film.
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