Last time he was on the Venice Lido, Jerzy Skolimowski was chasing Vincent Gallo through the snow in 2010’s wordless survival picture Essential Killing. This year he enters the race for the Golden Lion with a film that smacks more of a precocious 17-year-old arriviste rather than a director of some 77 years. 11 Minutes (2015) is a mad punk smorgasbord of fractured time, multiple narratives, point-of-view shots, vague apocalyptic anxiety and a pounding soundtrack. A found footage prologue of sorts, taken from various sources, introduces us to our characters. A video snatched from a camera phone sets up a couple in a luxury apartment. He has a black eye and dinner suit; she is lazily sensual and teasing.
Elsewhere, another man waits to sign his parole log at the police station. A boy sees something strange in the sky and tries to capture it on his webcam. A clock ticks, amplified to the clunk of nails being driven into coffin timber on the soundtrack. To catalogue exactly what happens or why would baffle the most ardent reviewer. We see the events in a city block of Warsaw, during a period presumably as long as the title suggests, though it would be hard to keep track. A suicidal woman (Ifi Ude) collects her dog from her ex-partner. Nuns buy hotdogs from vendor (Andrzej Chyra) we learn was a teacher and probably a sex-offender. A teenager is off to do something desperate.
The man with the black eye (Wojciech Mecwaldowski) is trying to track down his new bride (Paulina Chapko), currently in a meeting with an unscrupulous producer (Richard Dormer) who has unplugged the phones. A plane flies low over the city, shaking the glass. A drug courier (Dawid Ogrodnik) speeds through the streets on his motorcycle. An ambulance crew arrive at an apartment building where a woman is giving birth while a man is dying in the next room and a psychopath on the stairs attacks the medics with a wrench. Even in this one short scene, Skolimowski is saying: “Look, all life is here!” But the problem is that none of this is real life at all. They’re more like generic scenarios in some desperately nihilistic role-playing game. We discover relationships through details (a mirror shatters suddenly – two scenes on we see why) but it’s more like a series of puzzles than any true delve into life. It’s possible that too many stories are crammed into the 81-minute runtime. While the actress and producer in the hotel room is a key scene, it feels both clichéd and blandly unconvincing – the script and acting doesn’t slip into English seamlessly – stopping the headlong rush like a tripwire.
Cinematographer Mikołaj Łebkowski’s camerawork is suitably supple – it has to be if it’s to follow all the strands of the story, occasionally using a dog’s point-of-view (with paranoid feistiness), and other times arresting the action to present an image of surprising beauty. A soap bubble floats in the air of the city for a brief moment before exploding in slow motion and rainbow colours. The dénouement when it comes doubles down on the madness and 11 Minutes is never boring, but neither is it quite as revolutionary as it thinks it is. Run Lola Run (1998) was a much smarter technical exercise and Skolimowski never accesses the same level of human emotion as something like Iñárritu’s 21 Grams (2003). Still, it’s heartening to see an old dog suddenly arrive with a bag of new tricks and indulge in them with such evident enthusiasm.
The 72nd Venice Film Festival takes place from 2-12 September 2015. For more coverage, follow this link.