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First 9/11 Feature Film Debuts

German director Max Färberböck’s feature film "September" was released this week. The film is a daring collage of the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on ordinary Germans.


Debut at Cannes: Germany on Sept. 11, 2001

As the first director to tackle September 11 in a feature-length drama, Max Färberböck’s second film after “Aimée & Jaguar” is a bold, some say brave, next step. Set in Germany on Sept. 11, 2001, “September” tells how the attacks in New York and Washington didn’t only affect world events, but also changed life in Germany.

The film's protagonists, played by some of Germany's finest actors, including Jörg Shüttauf, Nina Proll and Justus von Dohnányi, watch the events of the World Trade Center catastrophe unfold in front of their eyes.

Their reactions span a range of emotions and actions, from a young mother who tries desperately to continue running a child’s birthday party as if nothing has happened, to a Pakistani man who invites his friends to celebrate with him at a restaurant, triggering a suspicious response in his pregnant girlfriend.

An author suffers an initial bout of writer’s block, which then transforms itself into a surge of creative inspiration, and a police officer, who believes his life isn’t worth living because his excessive patriotism seriously irritates his U.S. colleagues in the FBI. Then there’s Sandra, the television presenter, who reads the devastating news to a horrified Germany against a backdrop of her own private worries.

Max Färberböck Porträtfoto Regisseur September

Max Färberböck

Director Färberböck developed the idea for the film project just days after the terrorist attacks, setting himself the challenging task of completing the script within just four weeks. He aimed to capture the feeling of Sept. 11 while it still raged, and in order to help him stick to his self-imposed deadlines, he engaged co-authors John von Düffel, Sarah Khan, Matthias Pacht and Moritz Rinke. Each writer took on one of the four stories which make up the film.

“All the stories in the film are within the bounds of reality. It was a time of multiple nervous breakdowns and latent psychosis, and I have threaded this into the film,” Färberböck has said.

The result is an emotionally loaded depiction of how people everywhere were ripped from the routine of their daily lives by acts of mass terror on the other side of the Atlantic.

Unconventional approach

“September” -- which Färberböck says was always going to be experimental -- is a far cry from the classic three-act form of story telling. Instead, the director takes a fragmented approach, interweaving the contrasting plots and punctuating them with documentary footage to create a structure that reflects the disruption the attacks left in their wake. Opting too for a jagged visual concept, Färberböck fills the screen with harsh, abrupt cuts that he uses to stress the emotional confusion of the various characters. It is this conscious desertion from any traditional plot which lends the film the feel of a puzzle comprised of ill-fitting pieces.

But for all its intent, the film is flawed. None of the stories are strong enough to carry their weight alone, and even their sum total is too small when held against a backdrop so dramatic as that of New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. The authors, it seems, focused on the detail of their individual scripts, rather than looking at the film as a whole.

Perhaps the biggest weakness is that none of the stories would be very different if told outside the context of the twin towers, and as none of the events in the individual stories are actually the results of the attacks, the connections seem arbitrary and hard to believe.

Nonetheless, the film made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in the category “Un Certain Regard,” which in itself is an achievement, given that the number of German films that make it to the prestigious competition are few and far between.

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