Film Review: CoPilot

Review By Frances Winston

Directed by: Anna Zohra Berrached – Starring: Roger Azar, Canan Kir

In IFI and selected cinemas September 10th!

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, this German/French co-production, telling the story of one of the terrorists involved in the attack, hits cinema screens.

It is based on his story, rather than being absolute fact. Set in Germany over the course of five years, it follows Lebanon-born Saeed (based on the United 93 pilot, Lebanon-born Ziad Jarrah) and his Turkish-German girlfriend, and later wife, Asli (based on his real-life girlfriend, Aysel Sengun) as they navigate their relationship while he becomes more and more radicalised.

Told very much through Asli’s eyes, we are not shown details of Saeed’s descent into terrorism. Instead, we meet a young couple completely in love, dealing with day to day mundanities, as she tries to finish her medical degree, and he struggles with his choice to study dentistry, when his real ambition is to be a pilot.

As the years go on, his fundamentalism is very much on the periphery of their relationship, as Asli either chooses to ignore it or simply genuinely doesn’t believe there is anything going on. We never fully understand which it is, and exactly how much she knew.

Equally we never really understand what it is that drives Saeed down such a path of self-destruction, when he had such a bright future ahead of him, and a great love in his life. These questions hang in the air long after the credits role.

Azir and Kir give beautiful naturalistic performances as the star-crossed lovers, and director, Berrached, shoots their scenes almost claustrophobically, to emphasise the fact that they are each other’s world. Although you know what is coming, you do find yourself hoping that Saeed will see sense before it’s too late.

The real Aysel went into witness protection after 9/11, so this is ‘based’ on her real story, but it has seemingly been forensically researched, and is as close to the actual facts as we will probably get.

It is an interesting take – we don’t often see the terrorist figure as a human being, with vulnerabilities and people they care about in their lives. However, this doesn’t attempt to justify his actions, or garner sympathy for him. Rather, it just shows audiences the bigger picture.

However, the one-sided narrative is somewhat frustrating, as it makes his actions seem all the more pointless.

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