Portmanteau “Seven Days in September”-style reaction to the terrorist bombings in Madrid on March 11, 2004, that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800, “Madrid M-11: We Were All on That Train” does its duty as a lest-we-forget document while also tackling areas of concern beyond the tragedy. Most contributions deal sensitively with the material, using various stylistic approaches to eke hope from the horror. Consisting of 24 segs, of three to five minutes each, by directors (some co-helming) of different backgrounds and vintages, docu has already played at several, mostly Spanish fests, and deserves wider international exposure.
Ranging from grief-stricken or uncomprehending personal testimony to political, docu is strongest when exploring the impact of the bombings on the surrounding community. The attacks took place in working class barrios, and three of the shorts focus on how Madrid’s marginalized immigrant populations have dealt with it — Jose Heredia Moreno’s “The Grandkids of Tio Raimundo” reps the film’s most affirmative moments, as gypsy children dance in a kind of beautiful resistance to the shattering of their community.
The shorts featuring kids work best. Gonzalo Visedo’s “The Eyes of the Innocent” has a schoolteacher encouraging his group to talk and paint on the bombings; Alfonso Domingo’s “To Die in Madrid” has a Civil War nurse giving a class talk in which she compares the bombings to the War; and Miguel Santesmases’ “May It Never Happen Again” winds things up with a beautifully edited series of schoolyard interviews in which 8-10-year-olds supply their half-innocent impressions of what the attacks mean: “They’re taking revenge on us,” one youngster declares, “but we haven’t done anything.” In these sections, pic becomes a reflection on how best to get the awful news across to future generations.
The weakest sections are the most predictable, such as Leslie Dann and Guido Jimenez’s “Birthdays”, where people with March 11 birthdays explain their obviously conflicting emotions, and Jaime Chavarri’s interview with a bemused-looking doctor who can only restate the awfulness of watching the shocked victims arrive at the hospital. One of the better-known helmers, Colombia’s Sergio Cabrera, offers the docu’s only flirtation with fiction — a tangential but touching true story about a gay man who was unable to attend the commemoration services because his relationship with one of the victims was a secret.
The more political pieces, such as “Pass It On” by Vicente Mora and Daniel Quinones, which records how the new medium of text messaging generated solidarity and helped to bring down the government three days after the bombings, are effective but seem to have picked the wrong place to make their point. The most directly moving section is Catherine Ulmer’s “Candelit Station,” featuring the eloquent written messages left to the victims at the railway station which bore the main brunt of the tragedy by perpetrators still unknown.