Living through the eyes of a portmanteau.

Back again on a Tuesdays screening and it felt good. I had tried my very most best to attend each one in the first year as I would have been a complete fool to turn down a free film screening, followed by group conversation. This time, as we are in our second year we have been asked to critically analyse each film and write our responses down.

The film was 11’09″01 September 11 (2002 dir. Makhmalbaf et al.) 


This is a revealing Portmanteau, delivered by 11 directors all catching the responses of the 9/11 attacks on America. Each director had complete freedom within their projects apart from one rule, each film had to be exactly 11 minutes, 9 seconds and 1 key frame long. As for myself I only had the chance to see four of the 11 films. Each one had similarities as well as vast differences. It’s been a couple of days after seeing them and I have felt it very hard to write about each one. I remember leaving the cinema and feeling as if I could never bring my self to write about what I saw as it would open up the imagery once again in my head, I feel that when dealing with powerful material that is factual it’s always hard to know where making people aware to a moment or time begins and art ends. I guess this is why they say art is not safe…

Iran directed by Samira Makhmalbaf

The first film to start off the portmanteau was a story for me that resembled innocence being trampled by the global fear of the unknown. We start off by witnessing an old man pulling a bucket from a well, what took me about this scene was the audience gathered around him. I could only suspect this was an everyday chore. Do as I do, the young will learn from the old and follow in the footsteps. What intrigued me by this scene was my reaction to the job that was being carried out, as I am accustom to getting water from a tap it seems bizarre having to go to that much trouble to provide water, it seemed even stranger that the young were taking this in as a valuable knowledge. I do not mean any of this in disrespect but it was simply my first reaction.

After thinking about this however I kind of chuckled to my self and wondered, do other countries (not just Iran) look at us with the same ideology?  How about with politics? If history is known for anything its known to having a way to repeat its self, so do we look at the old and willingly follow in their footsteps. This interested me and made me aware to the fact that their can be similarities even when the two actions are on two different levels (gathering water as a posed to politics).


One thing that took me about this film was the positive message it held at the start “these huts will not protect you against their atomic bombs”. Knowledge is the answer, this will be what can protect you. The irony for me in this is that it works both ways. Huts wont stop atomic bombs but atomic bombs wont stop terrorism, being educated on the matter is what saves lives.

The camera fixates on the teacher, rushing through the crowd. I loved the way she weaved through gathering children as she went. Samira introduces us to the children in a way that sets their innocence, for me the teacher wants to so desperately protect her children, but in sacrifice may be taking their innocence. This is done in a way that would introduce fear to the children. They do not hold the correct answer but instead talk about matters that have affected them in their community, reflecting Americas way of being naive or more so unknowing of the outside world.

We see the children gossiping with each other, finding it hard to keep silent within a minute silence. I find it hard to believe that this is down to rudeness or disrespect, but more down to the youthfulness. This can be contributed when they are talking about the deaths in the well. Coming out of the cinema I was confused how/why they felt no sadness about these deaths. It could be down to them seeing this day in day out, for me however I think the director has gone with the notion that they haven’t even considered life or death. A child can’t begin to fathom the repercussions of loosing a life.

God is questioned within this, was he the dealer of these attacks? It’s a social comment for both countries, the children have yet to conceive the reality of the  evilness of man.

The conversation and rejection of gods power has a great sense of place about it. As this conversation would not of happened in their original country. It’s interesting to see a sense of place being shown through dialogue capabilities.

It becomes clear that the teacher has no chance of making her class understand through conversation or teachings, instead she decided to go for a more physical approach. Leading them out side she stands them in front of a tower.


The tower in comparison to the twin towers is a ridiculous as in of size, from a child’s perspective the tower stands as an iconic structure within their community. The children have to crank their necks backs and block out the sun just to see it. A child wanting to ask a question is declined and is told to just look up. I couldn’t help but see some resemblance of the news footage of adults looking up at the sky’s, witnessing the attacks and having nothing to say, added on to this is that the children are wearing what seems to be adult clothing.

Why they are forced to look is mind-boggling to me, the teacher is unknowingly desperate to create fear in an attempt to protect. News coverage’s forced the world to look at the same imagery, this provoked fear but yet made us emotionless as each image played. In a way we became onlookers like the children. It was almost a spectacle.

This film for me is just about a mirror image to western society as much as it is about innocence.

France directed by Claude Lelouch 

Claude Lelouch’s film was the most enriching out of the four. Not only did it feel and sound beautiful it had a very powerful meaning and a unique outlook from an individuals perspective.

We are introduced to two characters. One being a deaf women, the other a tour guide for the hard of hearing. It would be wrong to say that this has a linear story (opposed to Sean Penn’s film) from the very first shot we are left asking what is past, present or even reality.


A scene that fascinated me was the piano scene, it has to be noted that the limited sound use in this film is superb. The removal of sound gives vibration which equals to a more of a physical feeling. She explains that the vibrations comfort her. As he stops playing the piano it continues to play by its self.

When first seeing this I had no real thoughts or theory’s, however after rethinking this scene, purely because I enjoyed the sound design It began to reveal some hidden meaning. I understood that maybe the piano already knew what the man was going to play, he just had to start it off. The future was already written. I can’t help but think this connects September 11th.

America had armed and funded afghan freedom fighters (we now know them as terrorists) to fight against Russia who crossed their borders. This led to dangerous groups having the funds to carry out attacks. Therefor was America very much part of this attack as the terrorists were. Did they already write their future and time just played out, like the piano playing out as it was suspected to?

What follows on are moments that become almost disconnected from reality. The biggest expression of this is the word dream placed on a shelf, it can both hold meaning for the story being dream like, or her unrealistic idea of the American dream.


She decides to write a letter explaining how she can’t go on like this anymore, her fear has backed her into a corner that she needs to get out from. While she is writing this we are shown a TV with the attacks unfolding, vibrations and shakes are going on around her. She pays no attention however, differentiating from the earlier scene where she was very prone to vibrations she was now choosing to ignore them. She was wrapped up in her own sadness to acknowledge the outside world. For me this adds to my theory of the almost domino affect. The warning signs have always been their but she chose to ignore them.

This almost holds connections to the Iran film.

After she is greeted by her lover at the door, he is covered in dust. She see’s what has happened just by looking into his eyes. It a horrifying idea and a sad one at that. This scene has the feeling of not fitting, in fact I feel this is the work of her imagination. The thought of her being a photographer, or a lover of photography is quite interesting as if she is living moments or creating new moments like pictures, in an attempt to get over her loss.

Mexico directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

This film may be the reason why it has taken me so long to write this blog. It has left me feeling empty, this isn’t down to it being bad or uninteresting, but more to the fact of it being shockingly true to the event that unfolded. In fact I could argue this was one of the most aesthetic films out of the four.


The sound design blew my mind. It was terrifyingly interesting. In all my years of cinema attending I have never seen an audience gripped by sound. Apart from several quick snippets of footage it was the sound that captivated the audience, heads forward no one moving. Industrial sounds like metal and bricks gave it a real sense of environment. You could almost feel and smell the rubble and metal falling that day.

I’m left unknowing in my self if I found the imagery appropriate or necessary.  Discussion filled the cinema, was this crossing the line? . After much thought I have to disagree.

Was this discussion there because the other two films touched upon the situation in a more methodical and metaphorical way? I understand that the scenes are disturbing but I feel that they are there for a reason. It was an exercise of interactive cinema. It wanted, in fact made you take part. The screen being black? Was this the hand I so desperately wanted to put in front of my face to stop me looking on at such horrifying imagery. I can’t help but think you are being made to witness this attack. This experiment alone is one that I will never forget and from a film makers point of view has certified that sound can go beyond imagery it’s self.

There was again much discussion about the ending, the fade to white, the religious text. It appeared to me that a lot of people felt angry towards this, talk of the director making out the audience to be a little dim. I paid no attention. Alejandro had taken me to a place I never will forget, to a place I never want to return.

United States of America directed by Sean Penn

I have to start by saying I am not a great fan of Sean Penn. As Jake will tell you before I even began to watch his short I was already discarding it. I feel slightly ashamed about this as each film has the right to be taken on its own merit. However I do believe in comparison to the other films I saw it lacks what made all the other films so powerful.

I was left with the same feeling that I always seem to get when hearing from Americas perspective. Angry and unconvinced. America is so very much self-absorbed with this attack that it neglects to send a message or ask a question on why this happened (Iran & France).

Unfortunately Penn’s film seems to stay within it’s limits, unsure on its self, where as with the other films I was left looking for meanings I left this one asking why. The over dramatic music which had no connection with it main character or the event. The cliché camera work.

To round it up I just got the feeling that I had seen this all before.

On a plus note however I did feel that Ernest Borgnine’s performance was superb, I did feel sadness for him but it was duly down to his talents.


I know or more so have learnt from these films the sadness and confusion that surrounded this time. When this occurred I was only 10 years old. As far as I can remember I didn’t have a response, not to the attacks directly. The only response had been that of my mum, crying with her head in her hands. I couldn’t understand why something that seemed so many miles away could have such an effect of an individual person.

I suppose it was at this time I grew a sense of time and place and realized we are a world built on individuals.


Makhmalbaf, S. et al. (2002) 11’09”01 – September 11, StudioCanal, Artificial Eye, DVD


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