'11 Minutes' ('11 Minut'): Venice Review

Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival
Wojciech Mecwaldowski in '11 Minutes'
Full of sound and fury and signifying nothing new.

Polish veteran Jerzy Skolimowski crafts a puzzle-like assembly out of the fragments of a handful of disparate lives in this suspense drama about calamitous fate.

Jerzy Skolimowski's best films are layered works in which the personal and political intertwine, invigorated by wild touches of the surreal, the absurd and the poetic. So it's dispiriting to report that his first feature in five years, 11 Minutes, is an empty feat of technical virtuosity driven by a bleakly obvious vision of the murky morality of the post-9/11 world. Unfolding during the tight time span of the title, it replays the actions of a bunch of random characters whose fates collide in a busy Warsaw square. But the movie is all amped-up kinetic aggression and cold, steely edges with little of interest to say, making it mostly just abrasive.

A pre-titles sequence insinuates the theme of surveillance as various people are glimpsed via smart phones, security cameras, Skype, webcams, etc. That motif of unconnected events being observed and recorded by an impassive technological god comes and goes, cohering with insistence only in the final moments in infinitely multiplied images that evoke the famous Jules Dassin line: There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them.

Too bad it's not a more intriguing one. Instead, the central thread toward which all the others gravitate is an ugly cliché so tired it could almost be a parody. "I'm Richard, but please, call me Dick," says a sleazy American film producer (Richard Dormer) after he unplugs the phones in his upscale hotel suite, pops the champagne and welcomes a breathy blonde (Paulina Chapko) into his lair. We're teased into wondering if she's a hooker, until with all the slyness of a taxidermy fox, Skolimowski reveals she's an actress auditioning for a role. Bulleting toward the hotel is her jealous husband of 24 hours (Wojciech Mecwaldowski), who spends most of the movie pacing in a furious sweat out in the corridor.

Downstairs at street level is a hot dog vendor (Andrzej Chyra), out on probation after doing time as a convicted pedophile; his customers include a gaggle of flirtatious nuns and a punky girl (Ifi Ude), stewing after being dumped by her boyfriend (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz). A couple of mountain climbers (Piotr Glowacki, Agata Buzek) watch porn and make out in a luxury suite accessed through his window-cleaning job; a student (Lukasz Sikora) attempts to carry out a robbery that doesn't go as planned; a reckless motorcycle drug courier (Dawid Ogrodnik) narrowly escapes being caught sneaking sex and blow with a rich customer's wife; and paramedics have to contend with a violent lunatic before being able to reach a pregnant woman (Grazyna Blecka-Kolska) and a dying man (Janusz Chabior) in a nearby apartment building.

In case the ham-handed scheme isn't crystal-clear already, these folks are all in some way tainted by the sick soullessness of our tenuous contemporary existence. Just to underscore that view we get a lone representation of saddened innocence in an old painter (Jan Nowicki).

Skolimowski lays false clues about an impending cataclysm, even sending a disoriented white dove crashing into a mirror. But the movie is so lacking in thematic complexity that all of its crisscrossing paths and mini-narrative rewind-and-playback structure seems in the service of nothing more than an elaborate stunt set-piece, in which all the characters connect with an inevitable thud.

11 Minutes bows in Venice a day after a comprehensive documentary survey of the films of Brian De Palma, making it difficult not to wonder whether a director of his acrobatic visual imagination and devious puppet-mastery might have spun something more interesting out of this elaborate set-up. But the movie instead recalls another dull display of show-offy multi-narrative juggling in an emotional vacuum from 15 years ago: Mike FiggisTimecode.

Some audiences might admire the manual dexterity of Skolimowski's controlled chaos, aided by his editor Agnieszka Glinska in keeping all the stories humming along even while revealing only shards of information. But the director gives us no reason to care about any of these characters, which undermines any potential suspense. There's a certain vigorous muscularity in cinematographer Mikolaj Lebowski's camera work, alternating between handheld agitation and prowling slow pans. But with its rumbling drone of ambient music, its hyper-pumped soundscape and its one-note cocktail of adrenaline and dread, this posturing, airless exercise is wearing rather than exciting.

Cast: Richard Dormer, Wojciech Mecwaldowski, Paulina Chapko, Andrzej Chyra, Dawid Ogrodnik, Agata Buzek, Piotr Glowacki, Anna Maria Buczek, Jan Nowicki, Lukasz Sikora, Ifi Ude, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Grazyna Blecka-Kolska, Janusz Chabior
Production companies: Skopia Film, Element Pictures
Director-screenwriter: Jerzy Skolimowski
Producers: Ewa Piaskowska, Jerzy Skolimowski
Executive producers: Jeremy Thomas, Andrew Lowe, Ed Guiney, Eileen Tasca, Marek Zydowicz
Director of photography: Mikolaj Lebowski
Production designers: Joanna Kaczynska, Wojciech Zogala
Costume designer: Kalina Lach
Music: Pawel Mykietyn
Editor: Agnieszka Glinska
Casting: Pawel Czajor
Sales: HanWay Films

No rating, 81 minutes.