Amid much fuss about the De Palma documentary screening at this year’s Biennale, in sneaks Jerzy Skolimowski to deliver the best possible De Palma tribute imaginable. 11 Minutes doesn’t scream festival prestige, but it definitely screams. This is the kind of adrenaline-pusher that American cinema prefers to satirize rather than make straight up these days (To be fair, when such satire delivers the likes of Crank, it’s hard to complain). There are many characters and plotlines, but Skolimowski milks them all for maximum tension in a tight timespan. Get in, zip around for 80 minutes, get out: job done. And a terrific job it is, too.
The dynamism of the 77-year-old Skolimowski is fully evident from the first scene. We see a beat-up man (Wojciech Mecwaldowski) returning to a hotel room where his naked wife (Paulina Chapko) awaits. The scene is shot entirely from her point of view on a mobile phone. This is the first of a series of vignettes with which the film opens to establish a certain amount of background before the action kicks in proper. These scenes offer enough characterisation for us to get by, but they also offer Skolimowski opportunities to play around. The next sees a film director (Richard Dormer) launching an angry attack at his divorce lawyer via Skype (The picture-in-picture Skype format is as neat a nod to De Palma as you’ll get), before camcorder footage of a young woman (Ifi Ude) surveying her now-burned apartment interjects. The progression from format to format widens the onscreen image before widescreen action takes over.
The prologue ends as the still rough-looking husband wakes up to find his wife gone to a prearranged meeting with the director in his hotel suite. Why either of them should meet the director isn’t clear, but that’s all part of 11 Minutes‘ tense charm; answers are teased, but never promised. We join the man in a hurried walk down a (slickly rendered) Warsaw street as he frets about being even two minutes late. The film purports to chart the titular eleven minutes from the point of view of many characters, so time becomes a most valuable commodity. As the man hurries on, we overhear someone talking about hot dogs. We will cut back later to this conversation to see a hot dog vendor (Andrzej Chyra) selling his wares to some nuns. Meanwhile, the girl with the burnt apartment reclaims her dog from her boyfriend, a teenage boy (Lukasz Sikora) goes to undertake a dangerous mission and a cocaine-hoovering courier (Dawid Ogrodnik) is being sought by the authorities. All this is shot and edited with such speed that the plotlines can’t help but collide sooner or later. Break it down, and the film is theatrical in the best possible sense. If Rashomon and its imitators took time to consider all points of view, 11 Minutes feels almost simultaneous; as on a stage, all the action is visible all the time. We might be charting the husband’s progress in looking for his wife in the hotel, when we cut to a couple in another hotel room (Agata Buzek and Piotr Glowacki) trying to spice up their love life, before cutting back to the courier making his next dangerous delivery. All the plotlines seem so disparate, but Skolimowski has plotted this immaculately. He must have written this with a chart on his office wall to keep track of everyone. There’s little in 11 Minutes that feels superfluous; it runs at top speed, building tension across all its narrative strands before bringing them together for a truly incredible climax.
Everything in 11 Minutes is calibrated to maximize audience attention. The variety of scenarios on display ensures boredom is kept at bay. Witness a paramedic crew trying to get up an apartment block stairwell, only to find their route blocked by an old wardrobe. Who or what lies at the top of the stairs is a time-pressured MacGuffin, as are the reasons for the meeting with the film director and the reasons for the teen’s mission. There are reasons for everything, but the action is all. Skolimowski’s thriller looks simple, but the complexities of its plotting and its magnificently controlled direction guarantee it’s far from identikit. The writer/director has said he wanted to inject a bit more intelligence into the standard Hollywood thriller. If that’s the case, then 11 Minutes is an adrenaline shot straight to the heart.
11 Minutes plays in competition at the the BFI London Film Festival in October. An Irish release date has yet to be confirmed.