The fact that the most resonant films about Vietnam were made more than a decade after the conflict ended might be a lesson about the value of distance from world events before making them dramatic fodder. Examining the impact on eight characters in Germany of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., Max Faerberboeck’s “September” is self-important pontification posing as pained human drama. Unlikely to echo the offshore exposure of the director’s WWII lesbian love story “Aimee & Jaguar,” this slickly produced ensemble piece will be of interest primarily to German-speaking audiences.
In the omnibus feature “11’09″01 September 11,” an international mix of 11 directors weighed in on the global shock engendered by the U.S. tragedy with stimulating if uneven results. Despite some weaker episodes, the project benefited from a stunned immediacy to the events. Faerberboeck’s film instead is an inarticulate assembly of confused reactions the scriptwriters attempt to hitch to a comment on globalization.
Impressively edited opening recaps the tragedy using flight announcements over black screen, fragmented images, news footage and split screen to show multiple simultaneous events and to place key characters at the time of the terrorist strikes.
Among those characters is a well-heeled housewife (Catharina Schuchmann) entertaining kids at her daughter’s birthday party while her businessman husband (Justus von Dohnanyi) faces illegal-trading charges; a Pakistani pizzeria owner (Rene Ifrah) whose unclear response to the tragedy sparks terrorism paranoia in his pregnant German wife (Nina Proll); and a cop (Jorg Schuttauf), whose personal and professional failures fuel his anger.
The most distancing, unsympathetic character is a journalist (co-scripter Moritz Rinke), who struggles to find a handle on his 9/11 editorial coverage. Eventually, his creative juices are uncorked by a charged sexual encounter, prompting an essay that puts the tragedy into perspective with the devastating losses suffered in nations affected by questionable U.S. intervention. When his publisher refuses to publish the piece, saying America-bashing is out of fashion, the journalist explodes.
Not only is this plotline obvious, it’s offensive to writers, like Susan Sontag, who did go against the collective emotional tide to express challenging points of view.
The film tracks each character’s reaction to the attacks, both intellectually and emotionally, dictating irrational responses and a breakdown in relationships. The basic idea of disaster breeding turmoil has potential, but the treatment veers between overwrought drama and awkward humor, ultimately trivializing the entire exercise.
Some of the performances have more nuance than the material, especially Proll as the wife suddenly taking a closer look at her foreign-born husband. But the characters are too unsatisfyingly drawn to register emotionally.
Dextrously intercutting local news coverage along with reaction speeches from George W. Bush, Tony Blair and others, the drama is sharply photographed, but the elaborate soundtrack of imposingly overlaid music and dialogue becomes intrusive.