In Beth Murphy’s intriguing docu “Beyond Belief,” two Massachusetts women whose husbands were killed on 9/11 reach out to victims on the other side — Afghan widows. While following Patti Quigley and Susan Retik as they grieve, care for their children and raise funds for their Afghan project, pic remains fairly pedestrian in spite of the women’s warmth, intelligence and candor. But once the duo ventures into Afghanistan, docu really takes off, as shared widowhood shatters class and cultural barriers. “Belief” could have a shot at limited distribution before settling into cable.
Patrick Quigley and David Retik were passengers on the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Both of their wives were pregnant at the time. Filming over a two-year period, Murphy intersperses the two families’ backstories with scenes of the two widows working together to formulate a joint venture, which they conceived shortly after they met in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Watching news reports on Afghanistan, Patti and Susan, both from affluent suburban families, were struck by how much more devastating the loss of a husband must be to those without the means to provide for themselves and their children.
Pic lags a bit during a long bike ride from Ground Zero to Boston undertaken by Patti and Susan to raise awareness and money for their “Beyond the 11th” project, but things pick up when they start to plan a trip to Kabul and seesaw back and forth worrying about safety.
Ironically, it is an initially cautiously reassuring meeting with Clementina Cantoni, a Care worker based in Afghanistan, that almost scuttles their plans: Cantoni is kidnapped by terrorists and a picture of her swathed in scarves with rifles pointing at her head fills TV screens.
Early in the docu, director Murphy shows snippets of interviews with Afghan widows who will figure prominently in the film after Patti and Susan arrive in Afghanistan. In a taxi in Kabul, the two Americans talk about their mission to combat hatred-born terrorism with compassion and understanding, dubbing their work an example of “post-traumatic growth.”
Patti and Susan had helped the Afghan widows by supplying chickens and incubators for a cottage industry. Nonetheless, they are uncertain what kind of reception they will get from the women, and they are overwhelmed by their absolute acceptance.
These Afghan women, after decades of unremitting war, constitute a small part of a sisterhood of some 500,000 grieving widows in Afghanistan. The broader scope of the American women’s knowledge is easily trumped by the Afghan women’s experience of the devastation of war and loss. The docu achieves a rare sense of intimacy in the cross-cultural exchanges.
Tech credits are fine, particularly the sound quality and evocative sections shot in Afghanistan in spite of obvious limitations of time and space.