The Friend

Elmar Fischer's scrappy, shot-on-DV dramatic thriller — inspired by the fact that three of the suicide pilots in the World Trade Center attacks studied in Hamburg — grapples with the legacy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks through the eyes of a German student who suspects his roommate may have been involved. Sept. 7, 2001: Chris (Antonio Wannek)...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Elmar Fischer's scrappy, shot-on-DV dramatic thriller — inspired by the fact that three of the suicide pilots in the World Trade Center attacks studied in Hamburg — grapples with the legacy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks through the eyes of a German student who suspects his roommate may have been involved. Sept. 7, 2001: Chris (Antonio Wannek) and his girlfriend, Julia (Mina Tander), cleaning up after a raucous all-night birthday party, go looking for Chris' roommate, Yunes (Navíd Akhavan). But his room is empty and his bed apparently unslept in. Puzzled but not yet worried, they start calling friends. Flashback to 2000, as Chris and Yunes, a sensitive engineering student from Yemen who speaks perfect German, become roommates and then friends. Chris picks up some of Yunes' slightly old-fashioned manners, while Yunes, emboldened by Chris' encouragement, starts dating Nora (Mavie Horbiger), whom he's been admiring from afar. As the film switches back and forth between the past and the present, two very different stories converge on Chris' apartment in a Berlin University student-housing complex: One involves two thoroughly ordinary young men overcoming cultural differences to become friends, while the other painstakingly documents a sinister conspiracy unfolding unnoticed beneath the surface of everyday life. In the present-day segment, Julia and Chris step up their efforts to locate Yunes until Sept. 11 brings grimly riveting TV-news images of the collapsing World Trade towers, which cast an ominous pall over their search. Julia becomes increasingly emphatic in her insistence that it's time to contact the police, while Chris agonizes over betraying the friend he may not have known as well as he thought. In flashbacks, we see Yunes deeply wounded by the everyday racism he encountered in Germany and retreating into campus Islamic groups. Two trips — Chris and Julia's vacation in Yemen, and Yunes' hastily arranged internship in Pakistan — take on darker implications, as does Yunes' apparent renunciation of new hard-line beliefs in the last days before his disappearance. Fischer flirts with the danger of trivializing tragedy, but he's clearly more interested in probing the tangled skein of cultural and political forces that breed terrorists than in spinning calamity into shallow entertainment. If his ambitious first feature isn't entirely successful, it nevertheless poses genuinely provocative questions and opens a window into the way the 9/11 disaster looks from outside the U.S.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Elmar Fischer's scrappy, shot-on-DV dramatic thriller — inspired by the fact that three of the suicide pilots in the World Trade Center attacks studied in Hamburg — grapples with the legacy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks through the eyes of a Ger… (more)

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