The form of Jerzy Skolimowski's 11 Minutes is impressive but its banality is disenchanting. It's just the shell of a film, effective yet empty.
In 2015 Jerzy Skolimowski turned 77, but he made a film which proves that he is one of the youngest directors in Polish cinema – still hungry, ready to experiment, and searching for innovative forms. 11 Minutes is a film close to formal perfection and proof of the director of Essential Killing's fluency in the craft.
Skolimowski perfectly controls the mood, skilfully fuels a feeling of anxiety, and densely weaves several different stories together. The main characters pass each other on streets near Plac Grzybowski. A place which is so intensely saturated with symbols, is universalised and deprived of its properties, in the film becoming somewhere that we could find in any big European city. Amongst the people wandering the streets of Warsaw in the film are an inconspicuous hot dog vendor (Andrzej Chyra), a drug-addicted courier (Dawid Ogrodnik), a film director (Richard Dormer), a beautiful actress (Paulina Chapko), and her insanely jealous husband (Wojciech Mecwaldowski). Skolimowski shows us 11 Minutes from their lives just as dark clouds are gathering over them. 11 Minutes tells the story of the impossibility of escaping one's fate and its verdicts, about an impending catastrophe and the fragility of human life.
Skolimowski wrote the subsequent acts of this tragedy with confidence. He knows when to speed up and when to slow down the storyline's tempo. The editing by Agnieszka Glińska was particularly impressive. She received a well-deserved Best Editor award at the 40th Film Festival in Gdynia. It is thanks to her that the plots of several strangers merge into one coherent whole and 11 Minutes becomes more intense minute after minute.
Skolimowski’s class as a director is visible in nearly every sequence. The story of the paramedics trying to get into a barricaded apartment is exceptional. Skolimowski presents us with a group of anonymous characters, without sketching any individual portraits or introducing any particular character in order to make us more empathic, and despite this we end up rooting for the characters to overcome their struggles. There is tension, drama and a hopeless race against time.
It is no coincidence that apart from Glińska, composer Paweł Mykietyn received an award at the Gdynia Film Festival. In 11 Minutes, his music dominates the image at times; it teases and torments. Mykietyn certainly feels the spirit of the metaphysical thriller and knows how to adjust to it. It has been a long time since a film in Polish cinema has had a music score that sets up the mood in such a way and plays such a big part in the setting the tone. The threatening and uncertain atmosphere is built up by Mikołaj Łebkowski’s nervous, quivering shots. They deserve to be mentioned, as Skolimowski’s cinematographer likes to play with form – one of the stories is told from the perspective of a dog, the camera is located at knee height to the characters.
11 Minutes hit the screens surrounded by an aura of mystery. When Skolimowski began filming, all that was known was that it would be a thriller and that several key Polish actors would play in it, such as Andrzej Chyra, Dawid Ogrodnik, Piotr Głowacki, and Agata Buzek. Some of the actors didn’t even know the whole script but only the part they were performing in. Skolimowski carefully concealed the plotline from the media, thus cranking up interest in the film. Was he capable of meeting audiences' expectations?
gdynia film festival
In a story of inevitable catastrophe, Skolimowski is overly obtrusive in suggesting the presence of fate. The theme of a dead pixel which foreshadows a great tragedy is something of a caricature. The director pushes all the possible limits, only to end the film presenting death as something accidental, stripped of any majesty. His film is internally broken – impressive in its form, tuned and simultaneously unrestricted, yet irritating due to its intellectual simplifications.
- 11 Minutes. Screenplay/Directed by: Jerzy Skolimowski, Cinematography : Mikołaj Łebkowski, Music: Paweł Mykietyn, Editing: Agnieszka Glińska. Cast: Andrzej Chyra, Dawid Ogrodnik, Wojciech Mecwaldowski, Richard Dormer, Paulina Chapko, Mirosław Zbrojewicz, Ifi Ude, Agata Buzek, Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Piotr Głowacki, Jan Nowicki, Łukasz Sikora.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, September 2015, Translated by: Zuzanna Wiśniewska, September 2015