Writer|Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Cast: Richard Dormer, Agata Buzek, Dawid Orgodnik, Andrzej Chyra, Piotr Glowacki, Jan Nowicki
During the sixties, writer and director Jerzy Skolimowski focused on films that explored the ironic aspects and moral dilemmas affecting ordinary individuals in post-Stalinist Poland. His films were the ‘Impressionists’ of an era dominated by the sweeping epics of the Polish Film School. After collaborating in Polanski’s Knife in the Water, his directorial debut, Rysopsis (Identification Marks: None) 1965 was closely followed by Walkower. Since then, the 77-year-old Polish auteur has written, directed and acted in works ranging from the surreal to the dramatic, as here in his first film for five years: Venice Competition entry 11 MINUTES.
Best described as a suspense thriller, 11 MINUTES explores themes of fate and paranoia. Set in the sweeping urban spaces of contemporary Warsaw, it could also be entitled Crossover, dealing, as it does, with eleven minutes in the lives of a random bunch of characters whose lives collide in the centre of the capital. Wildly frenetic and octane-fuelled, the action unfurls chaotically with moments of surreal beauty and hard-edged passion. Invasion of privacy insinuates the narrative in the shape of security cameras, webcams and mobile phones which track the protagonists during this frenzied few minutes of precision filmmaking.
Tracking the various strands of the story, it’s easy to miss out on the pyrotechnics and wizardry of the expert camerawork and cutting-edge visual effects involving a crew of eight specialists lead by cinematographer Mikolaj Lebowski. There is a tacky film director (Richard Dormer) putting a newly married actress (Paulina Chapko) through her auditioning paces in a sleek hotel penthouse, her jealous husband (Wojciech Mecwaldowski) heads towards the building in hot pursuit, sporting a black eye (they argued earlier). Nearby, an ex-con hot dog vendor (Andrzej Chyra | In the Name Of) makes a point of remembering his customers’ orders to the letter and takes pride in serving a group of nuns and a young girl (Ifi Ude) with a dog. A window cleaner slips in from the high-rise block for a spot of home movie watching with his girlfriend, who joins him in one of the luxury bedrooms. A student thief (Lukasz Sikora) makes a abortive attempt at a robbery; and perhaps the most exciting – a motorcycle courier (Dawid Ogrodnik) visits his lover and almost gets caught ‘in flagrante’ by her high-powered husband on his return home to their villa in leafy luxury nearby. A group of ambulance paramedics try to take a heavily pregnant woman (Grazyna Blecka-Kolska) and a dying man (Janusz Chabior) to hospital from the highest floor of a mansion block. And last, but not least, veteran actor Jan Nowicki makes an appearance as a water-colourist painting quietly by the banks of the Vistula river.
Thrilling, bewildering and at times quite exhausting to take in, Skolimowski’s dramatic storyline is not the most involving or satisfying of experiences. Like a vintage wine, this is a multi-layered tour de force whose infinite subtleties will emerge with each viewing. The mesmerising set-pieces are brilliantly crafted and certainly amongst the most extraordinary action sequences ever committed to film. The final moments are simply breath-taking and mark out Jerzy Skolimowski as a director who, after 50 years, is still quite clearly at the top of his game. MT
VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 7 -18 OCTOBER 2015