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Movie review: 'Sept. 11' connects, but flails in middle

Collection of shorts takes divergent looks at the 2001 attacks

Posted: Thursday, October 02, 2003

It takes 133 12 minutes until Japanese director Shohei Imamura makes the finest point of the 134-minute movie "September 11."

"There is no such thing as a holy war," he says, through the guise of a golden python.

That means all war, whether fought by Americans, al-Qaida, Chileans, Imperial Japanese - whoever.

No crusade is so righteous that one should sacrifice his humanity. And Imamura gets the point across with his anti-war fable, a tale of a World War II Japanese solider who freaks out and turns into a snake. It's the last of 11 11-minute, nine-second movie shorts from 11 countries and 11 directors in "September 11," and manages to pull the second half of the collection out of a slow boil of cookie-cutter nationalism and half-formed torment.

"September 11" plays Friday to Sunday, Oct. 3 to 5, at the Gold Town Nickelodeon.

The film starts magnificently. Samira Makhmalbaf, a 21-year-old director, introduces a community of Afghan refugees busy building mud shelters in a forgotten corner of southwest Iran just a day after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"You can't stop atomic bombs with bricks," a schoolteacher says.

But there's nothing else for the children to do. Their parents have fallen into wells, or drowned or been stoned. They have no concept of the United States or a skyscraper, and when the teacher asks them to observe a moment of silence, they giggle and debate whether God is crazy.

The kids all deserve Oscars.

Makhmalbaf's message is that terror is, sadly, both relative and omnipresent. Countries in the first and third worlds cannot truly understand each other. And though Sept. 11 in the United States was a tragedy, other countries have tragedies of their own.

Burkina Faso director Idrissa Ouedraogo makes a similar statement with his clever short, which follows a group of children who think they've spotted Osama bin Laden in their village. The kids videotape a bin Laden look-alike, hoping to earn $25 million in reward money and solve the world's, and one of their mother's, ills.

"September 11" was assembled by Studio Canal and Galatee Films, two French companies, to premiere in 2002 on the one-year anniversary of the event itself. The idea is not new. French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, among others, contributed to a similar film, "Far From Vietnam," in 1967.

The collection does a fine job of taking us to 11 different countries and showing how 11 different cultures were affected, or not affected, by Sept. 11. It does not make a lot of groundbreaking observations. It's no secret that a woman in Bosnia, or a man in Chile, would think Americans are self-absorbed.

Sean Penn's short makes excellent use of Ernest Borgnine as a grieving, disoriented elderly man. But Penn's plot is contrived and disappointing.

Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, famous for "Amores Perros," has received a lot of praise for his short - a pitch-black audio montage of bodies falling from the towers. But in the context of the rest of the stories, his film is boring and overwrought.

On the other hand, French director Claude Lelouch comes up with a gem. A deaf-and-mute woman falls in love with her translator tour-guide and forsees the attack in a vision. Their breakup and reconciliation is beautiful - both suspenseful and heartbreaking.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.

'September 11'

Rating: 2 12 stars.

Directors: Mira Nair, Claude Lelouch, Youssef Chahine, Ken Loach, Sean Penn, Shohei Imamura, Alejandro Gonzlez Iñrritu, Idrissa Ouedraogo, and Samira Makhmalbaf, among others.

Parent's guide: not rated.

Running time: 2 hours, 14 mins.



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