September 07, 2021
Ziad Jarrah, the hijacker-pilot on the United 93 flight, is reinvented as a considerate husband in Anne Zohra Berrached’s film
Copilot review – 9/11 terrorist fantasy backstory is flawed and naive
Anne Zohra Berrached’s film is ambitious and interestingly intended, but naive and flawed, with a fundamental problem, which is right up there in the title. It presents us with a romantically imagined fictional couple inspired by Ziad Jarrah, the Lebanese-born 9/11 hijacker-pilot on the United 93 flight and his one-time German-Turkish girlfriend Aysel Şengün, whom he had met while a student drawn into al-Qaida’s notorious Hamburg Cell. Jarrah is often regarded as different from the other hijackers in that he came from a wealthy family, was not averse to the western world of pleasure, and was even rumoured to have had (temporary) qualms about the mission itself. Jarrah was dramatised as a rich-kid jihadi convert in Antonia Bird’s TV drama The Hamburg Cell in 2004, and made an appearance in Paul Greengrass’s real-time thriller United 93, two years later.
Jarrah is fictionalised here as Saeed (Roger Azar), a smart, idealistic Lebanese student and would-be pilot in Germany who falls for Turkish medical student Asli (Canan Kir); they marry but the relationship sours as he becomes more controlling, secretive and fanatical. His cousin’s plan to open a restaurant with a bank loan triggers an ugly, antisemitic tirade against “Zionists” and “moneylenders”. He heads off for an unexplained trip to Yemen but returns, apparently contrite, with scars and an apparent determination to have no more to do with these people – but then there is talk from the newly relaxed and smiley Saeed of going to flight school in Miami, Florida.
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