Jerzy Skolimoski’s “11 Minutes” runs about 80 minutes but takes place, as the title suggests, over a mere 11-minute span. The movie begins at 5:00 on an unspecified day and ends at 5:11. Within this brief timeframe, Skolimowski juggles a handful of mini-narratives happening in and around the same Krakow city square: In a penthouse apartment, a film director interviews a beautiful young actress as her jealous husband paces the hallway outside; a hot dog vendor with a history of committing sexual abuse is confronted by one of his victims; a man and a woman watch pornography in bed when a pigeon flies through the open balcony door; etc. These storylines occasionally intersect but never intertwine, up until they finale collide in an absurdist action-movie finale that resolves nothing. This kind of everything-is-connected narrative experiment easily lends itself to trite observations about humanity’s interconnectedness, but Skolimowski turns the conceit on its head, smashing the puzzle pieces rather than putting them all together.
As we watch these stories unfold, we can’t help but wonder where they’re all heading. Once we find out, we can’t help asking why they were told at all. Skolimowski whizzes from one fragmented pseudo-narrative to the next—utilizing a dizzying array of shots, including Steadicam, slo-mo, motorcycle-mounted, low-angle, video surveillance, smartphones—with the implicit promise that this is all heading toward some kind of resolution, some finale that will tie together the film’s various strands and make sense of them for us. But Skolimowski refuses to provide answers or form meaning out of the messiness. The film’s various narrative paths do lead to the same destination, but it is purely by accident. In the end, we understand as little as when we started.
“11 Minutes” is thus a kind of testament to its own insignificance, a weirdly gripping little meditation on the meaningless of daily life. With an ominous score by composer Pawel Mykietyn and an unsettling sound design that emphasizes the ambient hum of contemporary life, “11 Minutes” often feels like a science-fiction film. And, in some ways, maybe it is. Skolimowski’s films have often presented the everyday as alien. This is true not only in weirder, non-naturalistic efforts like “The Shout” and “Success Is the Best Revenge,” but even in a seemingly straightforward work like “Moonlighting,” in which Skolimowski presents a group of Polish construction workers on a stint in England as visitors on a strange and distant planet.
In “11 Minutes,” the constant presence of screens, photographs, surveillance, and recording devices emphasizes the idea that we are constantly being watched and recorded. While just a decade or two ago, the idea that we could reconstruct an eleven-minute timespan from multiple points of view with full audio and video might have seemed incredible, it is now completely banal. Now, even our dullest moments may be enshrined in data, preserved for posterity in ones and zeros on some data farm in the Utah desert. And what have we done with this new hyperawareness of our own behavior? Have we changed anything? Or does life continue to play out as it always has—a cruel, unfathomable joke?