Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Skolimowski’s 11 Minutes

Suppose they had the apocalypse and nobody noticed. Actually, calling it Armageddon might be overstating matters. It might be more like a sudden outbreak of bad karma happens around a public square in Warsaw, between 5:00 and 5:11. Do not obsess over the time line, just try to keep up with the comings and goings of the characters in Jerzy Skolimowski’s multi-braided 11 Minutes (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The clock will not be ticking towards 5:11 in 24-style, because Skolimowski decided it was too confining. He made Moonlighting, so he is entitled to call a sudden audible. Regardless, we will not see the sun set on this large assembly of not necessarily inter-related characters. As we can tell from flashbacks, there was something portentous about the day. In fact, several rather offhandedly mention seeing something odd in the sky, and then go about their day.

For the actress Anna Hellman, it involves meeting a predatory, date-rape-drug-slipping producer in his hotel room to discuss a most likely bogus part. Simultaneously, her newlywed husband will tear through the hotel, ducking security and hoping intuition will bring him to the right room. Meanwhile, a hot dog vendor who most likely served time for pedophilia awaits a ride from his son, who just barely escaped from his lover’s bed before her husband arrived. Frankly, it was not a clean getaway.

But wait, there are many more subplots for Skolimowski cut to and from, including the alpinist lovers who scale their way into an empty hotel room for an awkward assignation. There is at least another disaffected youth as well, whose criminal scheming will come to naught, or worse. Unfortunately, emergency services will be needed, but Skolimowski’s team of first responders are bogged down with a blocked stairway that complicates their attempt to reach a pregnant woman and an ailing man.

Frankly, 11 Minutes is more a feat of juggling than cinema. Conceptually, it has all been done before, but Skolimowski’s approach is exceptionally frenetic. It is impressive watching him zip around like a pinball, even though we lose track of the characters not played by the blonde bombshell Paulina Chapko or the profusely sweating Wojciech Mecwaldowski, who both have real screen presence as Hellman and her intense husband.

There is some serious flash and dazzle in 11 Minutes, but what is most intriguing about the film is the open question whether something cosmically significant is afoot. The hints are deftly dropped, but the lack of resolution is frustrating. Still, on a technical level, Skolimowski, cinematographer Mikolaj Lebkowski, and editor Agnieszka Glinska surpass all the temporal-tampering indie gimmicks so prevalent in the 1990s and early 2000s. It almost feels fresh again. Recommended for those looking for style but not wedded to narrative substance, 11 Minutes opens this Friday (4/8) at the IFC Center.