So many stories to tell and not a thing to watch. The latest from veteran Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, competing in the main competition at Venice, has plenty of flash and dash, and not much else. Jumping around a selection of thinly written personal tales, he covers the same time period before bringing a diverse bunch of non-entities together for an inanely explosive finale. There’s a great deal of technical mastery, and no spine to back it up.

Interconnected stories certainly hold quite a pull for films (and other mediums for that matter). There’s something intensely gratifying about gaining mastery over so many distinct threads. The problem is it rarely works. For every La Ronde or Altman mosaic, there’s innumerable duds that get so caught up trying to be clever, they forget to be good.

11 Minutes falls prey to this problem. Skolimowski has sleazy casting couch producers, frantic husbands, disgraced fathers, playboy sons, resilient paramedics, delinquent teenagers, an old artist and even a dog to play with. Try fitting that into a film that runs to barely 80 minutes. By giving them all screen time, no one, with the possible exception of Richard Dormer’s gloriously disgusting producer, is allowed space to become more than a thin sketch. It ends up like a stalled game of chess, Skolimowski moving his pieces around aimlessly until an opening becomes available.

Having milled around in this holding pattern, the ending blows up from nowhere, and in ludicrous style. With a dose of Charlie Chaplin slapstick, a slow-motion fire extinguisher catastrophe sets off a series of events that drag everyone, now in the local vicinity, into the action. Blaring music and quick cuts combine to quickly topple them all.

As half-baked as the plot is, there’s impressive flair in the visual construction, aside from the dubious use of slow-motion near the end. Ranging across Warsaw, Skolimowski and cinematographer Mikolaj Lebkowski give a sense of scale to the city, capturing decrepit tenement blocks and luxury villas alike. In Dormer’s story, as he attempts to half charm, half threaten Paulina Chapko out of her pants, there’s palpable tension as well, changes in camera angle emphasising her lack of escape routes.

There’s not enough of this to make the other stories interesting, and having failed to build them into anything resembling real people, it’s hard to care when things go wrong. 11 Minutes is an empty shell, a vehicle for Skolimowski to practice his craftsmanship. Sadly, this leaves it a thriller in name only.

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Writer: Jerzy Skolimowski
Stars: Grazyna Blecka-Kolska, Anna Maria Buczek, Agata Buzek
Runtime: 81 min
Country: Ireland, Poland

Film Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

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