Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Jerzy's back--and as fine as ever--with a new, unusual slice of happenstance, 11 MINUTES

What a career -- fifty years of it --  Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski (shown below) has had. From his full-length debut movies Walkover and Identification Marks: None, both from 1965, through his latest and one of his most spectacular to reach these shores, opening this Friday in New York -- 11 MINUTES -- the man seldom repeats himself yet keeps entertaining us while very cleverly pushing our filmic boundaries. This new film is no exception. It's quietly enthralling for its initial 70-odd minutes before exploding, literally and figuratively, into one of the more wondrous explorations of non-benign serendipity you're likely to have witnessed. This is equally eye- and mouth-opening cinema.

Skolimowski is the man responsible for a movie that so many of us love and yet would probably forget to place on our best lists: Deep End. For me, 11 Minutes is right up there with that unusual film. But it is so very different in style, if not theme. This filmmaker has one of the darker sensibilities in modern cinema, and I do not mean something like the cheapjack variety that a Tarantino exhibits. The Skolimowki version is bone deep, I think, perhaps due to his having grown up under Communist rule in Eastern Europe. And it is not that the man is resolutely negative. His films are usually full of life and fascinating behavior, but the overall vision is of a world that will come to naught. And he makes us feel the loss.

The plot here is rather... not there. Instead we have maybe a half-dozen different stories involving characters who are clearly inhabiting the same town at the same time. But their lives are quite separate.

Were not Skolimowski such an intelligent and clever writer/director, we might lose interest in these people as the film progresses, Instead we stick with them because their stories, even if disconnected, are clearly important (to them, and the filmmaker makes them important to us, too).

There's a hopeful young actress (Paulina Chapko) and the clearly sleazy director (Richard Dormer) with whom she has an audition (three photos above); her over jealous boyfriend (Wojciech Mecwaldowski) two photos above; and an ex-felon hot dog vendor (Andrzej Chyra, just above) who really knows his dogs, both canine and edible varieties).

A drugged-up drug courier (Dawid Ogrodnik, above) who takes a little extra time delivering sex ,as well; an elderly artist composing outdoors; a young man about to take up stealing; and a young woman, suddenly homeless and walking a dog (played by striking newcomer Ifi Ude, below) are among the disparate group.

What makes 11 Minutes so unusual is its structure. What we see in this film is roughly the same eleven minutes but viewed from the perspective of all these different characters. So the film seems to bounce back and forth in time, but because we're seeing things so strangely, we can only just keep up with the proceedings. That is, until, finally, we begin to view various threads assembling. Not all of them, mind you, but enough to keep us on our toes.

The film's distributor is billing its movie as a "thriller," but it's not. Too slow-moving for that genre, it is more of a drama, but one that unspools -- unravels, really -- in quite unpredictable fashion.

Even so, little will prepare you for the finale, in which it all comes together with shock, surprise, sadness and wonder. The cinematography here is extraordinary (via Mikolaj Lebkowski), and once you've picked your jaw up from the floor, you may very well murmur, as did I, "My god -- Skolimowki's done it again."

From Sundance Selects/IFC Films and running just 83 minutes, 11 Minutes will open Friday, April 8, in New York City for its exclusive theatrical premiere engagement at the IFC Center. Elsewhere? I hope so. A film this intelligent and this much fun ought to find wider circulation.

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