9/11/01

In this wide-ranging project, 12 short films add up to more than the sum of their parts. With a deft use of contrast, 9/11/01 opens in Iran, where we witness a school teacher trying to describe the destruction of the towers to her students, about age six. Samira Makhmalbaf directs the scene in an open classroom under a clay arcade. Surrounded by desert and simplicity, we get why these children aren't getting it. Suddenly inspired, the teacher compares the towers to an industrial brick chimney. This determination to creatively rise to the occasion resurfaces again and again in a breath-taking range of approaches to the subject.

From the elegiac tribute of Mexican filmmaker Gonzalez Inarritu, through attempts to situate the event historically by Israeli, Amos Gitai and Danis Tanovic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, to comic indications of how remote the U.S.A. can be in Burkina Faso, as related by Idrissa Onedraogo, the breadth of human response and how interwoven the events are emerges organically. The date recurs again and again, a number as branded on memories over the centuries and decades preceding 9/11, as a result of other tragic events in the world's warring history, as the destruction of the World Trade Centre is for us.

The literal films and the allegorical ones enhance each other. In Mira Nair's film, a Muslim woman in New York suffers agony and discrimination as her missing son becomes the object of suspicion. In Shohei Imamura's film, a war veteran has mentally turned into a snake, creating despair and recriminations in his family and village. After his disappearance, he is spotted by his sister who asks, "Does being a man disgust you so much?"

Sean Penn's film feels arty and self-conscious after the many more expansive outlooks, with its actor-driven performance by Ernest Borgnine. Second last in sequence, followed only by Imamura's equally allegorical film, the two felt broken off from the fluid interplay between the preceding films. Nonetheless, 9/11/01 is a brave and thought-provoking experience. In Ken Loach's film about a Chilean refugee, the protagonist quotes St. Augustine: "Hope," he says, "has two daughters, Courage and Anger." I would add a third, Imagination. (Alliance Atlantis)