Question of time
An adventurous narrative puzzle from Poland
Jerzy Skolimowski’s 11 Minutes starts out in what seems like wildly scattered chaos.
We see bits and pieces of scenes and moments involving a bewildering variety of characters. Much of it looks a little like fragments from stories already in progress—the start of a sex scene or a crime story or the middle of some kind of thriller.
Gradually, we begin to recognize some of the recurring characters—a filmmaker conducting an interview/audition with a blonde actress, an oddly solicitous hot dog vendor chatting up a group of nuns, the actress’ somewhat tattered-looking husband prowling the corridors of a high-rise hotel, a bike courier helping his father and romancing a well-to-do married woman on the eve of his own wedding, first responders getting a pregnant woman out of a collapsing tenement, etc.
Most of these smallish stories go their separate ways even as we discover connections, obvious and otherwise, between some of the characters in them. No central, all-embracing story ever really emerges from this, apart from one crucial circumstance: Nearly all of the recurring characters are in the middle (or at least the vicinity) of the chain of calamities unleashed outside a Warsaw hotel during those eponymous 11 minutes.
That last may sound like a spoiler, but I offer it as a kind of reassurance in the face of what might seem like too much narrative chaos and also as a framework for viewing a film that refuses any gesture of overall unifying meaning and concentrates instead on the meaning and feeling to be found in all those dramatic fragments.
In a sense, 11 Minutes is a mystery story that proceeds less by the answers it finds than by the questions it leaves only partially answered. What kind of movie is that filmmaker planning as he “interviews” the blonde actress? Or is he up to something else altogether? Why is the hot dog vendor teasing those nuns and giving his wares away for free? What is it that frightens that kid in the midst of a pawnshop burglary that seems a little too easy?
Why does the window-washer go to such extreme lengths, and heights, to have an assignation with his own wife in someone else’s hotel room? And what is that strange shape that some of the characters in this movie see outside their windows and, unfortunately for us, just a bit offscreen?
This Polish/English production does sort out a good deal of its “chaos,” but it’s at its most engaging when it’s playing with the ways in which “reality” is an unstable blend of clarity and confusion.
Skolimowski was one of the leading lights of the Polish New Wave in the 1960s. He’s had a long international career as both actor and director, and such English language films as Deep End (1970), The Shout (1978) and Moonlighting (1982) represent his most distinguished work as a director. This film is one of his very best as well.