Jerzy Skolimowski’s 11 Minutes belongs to the tradition of puzzle thriller that was briefly in vogue in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which offered a swath of narratives to the audience, requiring them to discern a common thread that would be confirmed at the climax. Mike Figgis’s formal experimentations appear to be a significant inspiration for Skolimowski, and there are bits and pieces of 11 Minutes that recall everything from Go to Run Lola Run to the Final Destination series. The hopeless, virtuosic punchline steals from, and damn near equals, the climax of Brian De Palma’s extraordinary Femme Fatale. But the references or signal points or thefts, whatever they truly are to the veteran filmmaker, never bog down 11 Minutes. Skolimowski’s formal control over the material is so masterful that the textual particulars are revealed to be beside the point, as this film is so intensely, confidently an “exercise” as to ironically transcend the superficial connotations of that term.
Throughout, Skolimowski fetishizes objects, imbuing them with a kind of debauchedly contemporary totemic power. In the opening, characters record themselves on their cellphones, capturing footage that mixes lust with apocalyptic foreboding, climaxing with a husband (Wojciech Mecwaldowski) looking up between the legs of his gorgeous new wife (Paulina Chapko), wondering what’s “in there.” Later, this man briefly holds his watch up to the camera in a dynamic close-up, highlighting its shattered face, as his jealousy of his wife’s sexual agency blossoms into full-born hysteria. When he paces a hotel hallway, we register the lurid colors of the paneling on the walls as well as the somewhat irrational curving geometry of the space. Elsewhere, curtains blow in the wind with looming, dreadful agency, and a huge bubble floats toward the sky, hovering for far longer than it should, inviting us to anticipate its symbolic pop. Close-ups of faces are sexy in their gritty, sweaty specificity, seemingly poking at us out of the screen from blurry, canted backgrounds.
11 Minutes’s plot is so abstract that it forces us to seize on these images with concentrated curiosity. Skolimowski casually reveals how little narrative matters in a thriller next to a command of the spatial relationship between bodies and settings. The plot, such as it is, follows a handful of characters in a Polish city over the course of an afternoon from five to 5:11 p.m., alternating between the various points of view so that 11 minutes are stretched out to the length of a feature film. Some of the asides are clearly filler, particularly one in which a boy contemplates robbing a pawn shop, but even these resonate with inchoate dread.
The central threads have a lurid, compact power that’s derived as much from what’s unsaid as said. The directorial ingenuity of 11 Minutes is so evident and flamboyant that it’s tempting to overlook the accomplishments of Skolimowski’s script, which abounds in shorthand and overheated implication. Much of the film is driven by the uncertainty existing between various couples, which Skolimowski and his actors dramatize with gestures that resonate as the codes derived from shared pasts together which we will never get to witness, informing 11 Minutes with a weighted sense of free-floating empathy. The film offers the sensation, rare in cinema, of truly alternating between the purviews of multiple consciences.
This unsentimental social awareness blossoms subtly among the reverie of geometry and objects, rendering the anticipatable climax shocking, as it serves as a cathartic violation of the audience’s trust. The film’s final Rube Goldberg-ian flourish refutes the banal humanity of many multiple-character studies, convincingly insisting that only death shall bring us together, unifying our vastly differing gulfs of emotional experience.