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9’11’01

Year: 2002
Production Co: CIH Shorts
Director: Youssef Chahine, Amos Gitai, Alejandro González Iñárritu , Shohei Imamura, Claude Lelouch, Ken Loach, Sean Penn
Producer: Nicolas Mauvernay/Jacques Perrin
Writer: Youssef Chahine, Sabrina Dhawan, Amos Gitai, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Paul Laverty, Claude Lelou
Cast: Ernest Borgnine

I heard about this film not long after September 11th and it took me a very long time to track it down. Asking filmmakers around the world to make short films based on the attacks against America has a lot of artistic merit and as you'd expect, the quality and approaches vary dramatically.

There are a fair number of films about the Islamic or non-Christian point of view as you'd expect - the very existence of this movie is somewhat left wing, a clarion call to peace and understanding at a time when the world was thundering with war cries from every quarter.

One of the most technically astounding is Amos Gitai's segment, set in an Israeli square after a bombing attack by Palestinians. Survivors, emergency crews and news reporters arrive and rush back and forth trying to make sense of what's happened, tempers flaring while everybody gets in everybody else's way, and news gradually finds its way into the collective consciousness of the crowd of something terrible having happened in New York. The astounding part is that the entire film (it feels like about ten minutes) is done with a single shot.

Most people would have seen the film for Sean Penn's name. His tale is one of sad whimsy as a widower (Ernest Borgnine) goes about his life in his crummy apartment, laying a dress out for his wife to wear every day and talking to her as he goes about his business even though she's been dead for years, fretting about the flowers he can't bring back to life because of constant darkness.

The old man beams gleefully as light pours in, perking the flowers back into full bloom. It's only when we see the apartment building from outside we realise why, as two enormous shadows fall to the ground to let the sunlight through.

French director Jérome Horry entry is a haunting tale about a deaf Frenchwoman dating a World Trade Centre tour guide, their relationship feeling like it's reaching an end. After he leaves for work she sits alone in the apartment feeling sad for her lot. She isn't facing the TV and can't hear the entire drama unfolding, only aware of something not right when the power flickers, tremors shake the building and her boyfriend shows up back at home soon after covered in grey dust.

Ken Loach uses an Argentinian former political activist to remind the world of the other September 11 terror when Pinochet used US backing to murder Allende and overthrown the elected government. Mira Nair shows us a grieving Indian family in suburban New York starting to fall victim to the ethnic profiling that plagued migrants in America before it's revealed their missing son was more heroic than any of them could imagine.

Alejandro González Iñárritu's film is as astounding as it is perplexing. Over the course of several minutes there's little but an awful symphony of horror movie noises and sounds effects while video images of falling bodies intermittently flicker every half minute or so. I wonder if he's saying something about the relationship of movies and viewers? We want to see something happening and get very impatient between these split-second scenes, but when we see them they're so horrible we don't want to see any more.

Just as outlandish is Japanese director Shohei Imamura's film, set after the second world war and featuring a returned soldier who's decided to be a snake, crawling along with his arms folded underneath himself, hissing and biting people, apparently too traumatised to want to be human anymore. It has little to do with September 11 except for the final closing statement that appears on screen, assuring us there's no such thing as a 'holy war'.

The whole movie is worth seeing to watch the result of our species practicing what it does best - art. What else is it but the employment of our creativity to tell stories that reflect upon and inform about something in our society?

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