This probably the only time I’ll give a full pie to a movie that I’ll admit is not quite perfect, because ironically, my varying reactions to this collection of short films were what made it so perfect.
Synopsis: The French production company Studio Canal gave 11 international filmmakers carte blanche to comment on the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The only stipulation was length: each piece in this omnibus project had to be 11 minutes, nine seconds and one frame long. What emerges is a collection of films that mostly have no qualms about being blunt and honest about what September 11th means to the world.
Review: This probably the only time I’ll give a full pie to a movie that I’ll admit is not quite perfect, because ironically, my varying reactions to this collection of short films were what made it so perfect. September 11 is made up of 11 short films from 11 international filmmakers that each have something to say about the events of 9/11. The films come from Iran, France, Egypt, Mexico, Japan, and more. Every filmmaker commissioned was given complete artistic freedom of expression, the only restraint being the length: each segment was required to be 11 minutes, nine seconds, and one frame in length. All the films have a distinct point of view and a unique way of expressing it. None of them are even remotely similar to any of the others. It’s a grand concept, and the fact that it makes such a cohesive and unified whole still amazes me.
It’s not important (or possible, in some cases) to give a neat synopsis of each segment, but I had my favorites. The Indian entry (directed by Mira Nair, yay) deals with the surge of racism following the World Trade Center bombings through the story of a Muslim woman living in New York City who loses a son to the terrorist attacks. From Mexico, there is a film that consists almost entirely of a black screen, with a soundtrack of various audio from the attacks (including real cell phone calls made by passengers on the planes minutes before they hit the towers). Split-second images of people hurling themselves from the towers hit me like a ton of bricks; I was hardly able to breathe by the end of the segment. Other entries are less directly related to the actual events, but no less powerful.
I saw September 11 with a friend, and standing outside the theater comparing our opinions of each short, we found that our impressions differed in almost every case: some segments that I thought were clearly the “best” of the lot hadn’t made such a big impression on her, and some of her favorites hadn’t made such a big impression on me. But this is exactly what interested and impressed me the most: We both got so much out of the film, but not the same stuff. What makes this film great to me is that those segments that didn’t really do it for me still resonated with just as much truth as any of the others. I was careless before when I said I was giving September 11 four stars even though it wasn’t perfect—there were some elements in September 11 that didn’t “speak to me,” but certainly not because they were imperfect. It is simply the nature of such a global mosaic.
The last paragraph probably makes it sound like the film was split 50/50 for me in terms of how many segments worked for me, but in fact none of them completely didn’t work for me, and I have no actual complaints about any of them. Every film that makes up September 11 is artistically rich and moving in its own way. The cultural and creative diversity here is worth watching no matter what you think of the events of 9/11. If there is any message evident in the whole of September 11, it is that the ramifications of the World Trade Center bombings extend infinitely beyond that day, and beyond the boundaries of America. September 11 is a powerful reminder of just how global this event was.