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Copilot (Die Frau Des Piloten)

Director – Anne Zohra Berrached – 2021 – Germany, France – Cert. 15 – 118m

*****

The romantic and sometimes not-so romantic life of a woman whose husband will take part in an act that will shake the world – out in cinemas on Friday, September 10th, advance screening with director Q&A at Genesis Cinema, Mile End at 6.10pm on Wednesday September 8th

“Without you, I wouldn’t have the strength to follow my path.”

Asli (Canan Kir) sees Saeed (Roger Azar) for the first time in Germany when she is on a wild fairground ride with her friend Juia (Ceci Chuh). She meets him again at a student party. They fool around on the beach and in the sea.

1st Year. Two students in Germany. She is from Turkey and studying science. He is from the Lebanon and studying dentistry, a subject his parents pushed him into – he’d rather be a pilot. He hangs up on his mother when she berates him about this – he’d been hoping to introduce her to Amli, now his girlfriend. She doesn’t even know how to talk to her mother about the fact she’s dating an Arab, never mind the fact that they are living together.

2nd Year. Her mother visits, Amli doesn’t introduce her, Saeed appears and announces that he wants her daughter’s hand in marriage. Her mother refuses point blank. He moves to Hamburg to study aeronautical engineering. She doesn’t see enough of him. Later they marry in a mosque. “You must keep my secrets,” he says. When they make love, his hand seems to reach towards her neck.

3rd Year. They’re with friends when Saeed starts talking about “Allah” and “War”. Nominal Muslim Asli doesn’t really get it, but backs him up as her husband. He starts complaining about her smoking. She observes him secretly go out in the middle of the night to use a phone box. He is going away and makes her swear on her father she’ll tell no-one. He gives her a ticket to Beirut to meet his family, then doesn’t turn up. His father questions her about him. She goes around Hamburg looking for him.

4th Year. She’s less than sympathetic when he turns up unannounced at her flat. He talks about kids.

5th Year. He goes to Miami, Florida to learn to fly. She visits him there: he’s got his licence. He flies her around Miami, with its twin towers. He briefly lets her take the wheel. He talks about living forever. Back in Germany, she has routine surgery, wakes to find the hospital deserted. Everyone is gathered in the TV lounge watching the events of 9/11 unfold. She can’t watch. She goes to the police station where she calls the Miami pilots’ school and hears, “we don’t think he’s alive any more”. She reads his final letter in a lift, where her multiple reflections holding the letter lower it before she does.

Asli starts off as an ordinary young woman hanging out with her best friend Julia, with whom she slowly loses touch as she becomes involved with Saeed. She either isn’t aware of his slow radicalization or perhaps she just doesn’t want to know. His mate Fares (Nicolas Chaoui) starts a restaurant, but Saeed falls out with him over the fact that Fares serves alcohol. In the 5thYear, Asli visits Fares and Julia and their little boy, a strange injection of normality into her increasingly abnormal world.

And therein lies the great strength and power of Copilot: it takes you inside the emotions of this young woman as she struggles to make her relationship work in the most increasingly impossible of conditions. Everywhere there are images of what is to come. She enjoys a violent fairground ride, sits on his shoulders in the sea off Germany or stands up in his car in Miami, in all cases as if flying. She gazes out of windows several storeys above ground level evoking by association the view looking out of the interior twin towers. She becomes literally cut off from herself when she wakes up and sees herself on the end of her bad, then walking into a wardrobe. Finally, she splits into multiple versions of herself in that lift.

It’s impossible for anyone else to know exactly what the wife of a 9/11 bomber would have gone though, but screenwriter Stefanie Misrahi has has a pretty good go here while director Anne Zohra Berrached, who shares script credit, has put it all on the screen in a highly effective manner thanks to the extraordinary casting of the two leads and judicious use of rehearsal, improvisation, script rewrites with Misrahi and camera setups by cinematographer Christopher Aoun specifically designed not to impede the actors. Movies are a collaborative medium, and this one feels as if the collaboration has worked particularly well. It’s a very important subject to take on not to mention tough and in other hands might well have gone twin towers up, but the team behind this particular film have delivered a movie which is nothing less than devastating. Don’t miss.

Copilot is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, September 10th. Advance screening with director Q&A at Genesis Cinema, Mile End at 6.10pm on Wednesday September 8th

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