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Rebirth (II) (2011)

7.3
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 144 users   Metascore: 76/100
Reviews: 3 user | 13 critic | 7 from Metacritic.com

Filmed over the ensuing years after the attack on New York's World Trade Center, this documentary takes a look a the physical and emotional healing process involved in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

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Title: Rebirth (2011)

Rebirth (2011) on IMDb 7.3/10

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Cast

Credited cast:
Tim Brown ...
Himself
Nicholas Chirls ...
Himself
Brian Lyons ...
Himself
Tanya Villanueva Tepper ...
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Ling Young ...
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Filmed over the ensuing years after the attack on New York's World Trade Center, this documentary takes a look a the physical and emotional healing process involved in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

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31 August 2011 (USA)  »

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A moving story of breaking down and letting go.
13 November 2011 | by (Birmingham, Alabama) – See all my reviews

I assumed that it was inevitable that in the tenth year since the events of September 11th, documentary filmmakers would crank out one retrospective after another. On the anniversary, basic cable was flooded with retrospectives and remembrances and personal interviews and, of course, those horrible images of the planes flying into the buildings.

Jim Whittaker's documentary Rebirth is not so much a film about September 11th, but about the lives of a handful of people who lost love ones in the tragedy. His approach is appropriately mournful, but also respectful in its simplicity. He speaks with five people who were affected in one way or another and follows the progress of how they have rebuilt their lives over the course of ten years. The film contains no news reel footage of the events of that day, save for some very brief audio clips at the beginning, and the subjects speak in front of a black background, talking frankly about how they felt at the moment. Each year, 2002, 2003, 2004 and so on, they are interviewed so that we can see the progression of their lives.

Beginning in 2002, we see interviews with the five subjects, all visibly shaken. The people are interesting. We meet Ling Young, a Chinese office worker who was badly burned at ground zero and undergoes surgery after surgery; Nick, was a teenager in high school at the time and lost his mother and afterward became estranged from his father; Tanya, who lost her fiancé Sergio; Brian, a construction worker mourning the loss of his brother; Tim, a New York City fireman who lost almost everyone he worked with.

The movie tracks the ups and downs of their lives, revisiting them every year up to the present. It has the same narrative structure as Michal Apted's "Up" documentaries that came back every seven years to interview the same set of school children. In Rebirth we see their grieving process, sometimes going into dark places. Nick has a falling out with his father and remains estranged for several years. Brian suffers PTSD but pushes forward through the clean-up at ground zero and the building of the memorial.

All are touching but, for me, the most emotional was Tanya, who was in her early 30s at the time and lost her beloved fiancé Sergio. She openly admits that she wasn't even sure which of the two towers he was working in. Each year, as we track her progress, we can see a woman grieving this loss, but coming to the realization that life must go on. What we get from her is a woman who sees her relationship with Sergio as forever unfinished, she mourns the loss of her love but also the loss of the life she never got to have. It is about the five year mark when she makes the difficult decision to start dating again. What her new boyfriend tells her about Sergio is one of the most beautiful sentiments I can think of. I'll leave it for you to discover. She moves on with her life, never forgetting Sergio, but ultimately arriving at a point where she knows that it is time to let him go.

Also touching is Nick, whose mother had recently started a new job at the World Trade Center not long before the attacks. He was a kid, a teenager who was already struggling to understand the world he would inherit. In his first interview we can see a broken soul. He remembers a moment while speaking at his mother's memorial when a sparrow landed on his head and didn't struggle when he took it in hand. Anger and resentment would seep into the cracks of his everyday life, he remembers, and it brought he and his father apart for several years. Through the years, we see him grow into a thoughtful man, graduating from college and then working on Wall Street with many people who knew his mother.

What makes Rebirth so compelling is its simplicity. We don't actually see the tragedy itself (the tragedy is present in the personal accounts) but we feel the resonance of this event in every single word. This is a film that sits down and intimately looks and listens to what the interviewees have to say. Whitaker is very respectful to all of his subjects and also to his subject matter. There might be a temptation to get cute or tricky with the visual to make them more cinematic but he knows that our understand of the tragedy is all the film really needs. He shoots each of the five people in tight close-ups so that we can see their faces, dark and sallow in the years just after the tragedy, then bright and more hopeful as the years go on. Intercut with the interviews are time-lapsed footage of the progress at ground zero to build the memorial, giving us the striking sense that life is moving on.


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