Dir: Jerzy Skolimowski
COUNTRY: POLAND, 81 MIN
Jerzy Skolimowski, one of Polish Cinema’s most acclaimed figures, is at the centre of 2016’s Polish film festival in London, and his new film 11 Minutes takes the opening slot of the festival proper. The narrative is built on a set of interlocking and overlapping stories set nominally around a particular town square in Warsaw, on a fateful day between 5 and 5.11pm, hence the title. But despite the high concept, one that might make you think back to films like Run Lola Run or Timecode, the film doesn’t quite land the punch you’d expect from the 77-year old veteran of Polish filmmaking.
The story begins with a montage of grainy and shaky camera phone and FaceTime camera footage, giving us a glimpse at some of the characters who will cross paths later on in various ways. A battered and slightly desperate-looking man cavorts with his beautiful wife in a swanky high-rise apartment, a nervy looking kid mutters to the camera in an address to his mother that he has no choice but to go whatever it is he is setting off to do, and a group of paramedics are seen on CCTV setting off on an assignment. It’s not at all clear what these people have to do with each other, where they are or what they are doing, and even when the film branches out to cover the window of time in the lives of all the protagonists, it is only in literally the last five minutes that it all becomes clear what links them.
And to be honest, it is a bit of a downer when the realisation finally kicks in, as some of the connections really do seem thin, based on nothing more than geography and time. Some of the narrative threads offer more enjoyment, much of it of the black comedy variety, than others; a familiar problem with multiple-narrative films like this. The thread which features a Polish actress arriving for an interview in an apartment with a sleazy film executive, who plies her with champagne and word games while her frantic andsweaty husband stalks the corridors, has a kind of over-the-top kitsch appeal to it. There are some visceral thrills in the storyline featuring the paramedic team, who have to fight their way past a disturbed skinhead to get to the top of a tenement building where a pregnant lady awaits, at one point having to tunnel their way with axes through a wardrobe he has jammed on the stairwell. There is some fun to be had too keeping your eyes on the background action to try to spot when the various characters are going to cross into each other’s story arcs.
A possible metaphysical angle to all these seemingly random connections is dangled in front of us from time to time. An airliner roars overhead at an eerily low altitude like an angel of death, its engine roar jacked up by the sound mix. A few characters notice a weird dark spot in the sky, which is mirrored in a police officer’s CCTV footage and an ink spot on an amateur landscape painter’s canvas. A nervous pigeon smashes into a mirror. But none of this ever really adds up to anything. The film is more effective when it comes to conveying something of the feeling of contemporary, hectic life. Skolimowski shoots all the storylines with a camera style that gives off a restless and frantic air, like the world is juddering. The camera is always moving, changing its angle on the subject, moving from low angle to body mounted and back in seconds. There are no real new tricks here though, just the impact of having it thrown at you at such an intense level.
Despite 11 Minutes feeling like a film that can’t really make the most of its concept, the Polish Kinoteka festival has plenty more Skolimowski films playing that better showcase what he can do- he is one of three directors celebrated by this year's festival. Kinoteka runs from 7 - 28 April.