11 Minutes (2015): Jerzy Skolimowski’s Precisely Executed Thriller

Skolimowski’s new film, 11 Minutes, which premiered at the the 2015 Venice Film Fest, is Poland’s nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Nothing Is Certain

11_minutes_3We tread on thin ice. We walk the edge of the abyss. Around every corner lurks the unforeseen, the unimaginable. The future is only in our imagination. Nothing is certain–the next day, the next hour, even the next minute. Everything could end abruptly, in the least expected way



11_minutes_2I had this idea that the prologue would be something akin to a cyber cemetery for our characters. We shot the opening sequence using common tools: a phone camera, a computer camera, a closed-circuit camera. I wanted to convey the feeling of intimacy, immediacy and the truth of authentic source material. The original concept involved having to do with simple, innocent objects outliving us –like your wallet surviving an airplane crash in which you yourself perish. Today, with social media so prevalent, you might say a significant part of our afterlife is realized in the form of photographs or video footage existing independently in cyber space, or (paradoxically) in some “cloud.”


Underlining Passage of Time

11_minutes_1In my initial idea for the film, time played an instrumental role. The script was written with rigid constraints in mind. I measured the action of the characters methodically and intended to present each story in real-life time. The action was to be contained, precisely, within 11 minutes, between 17:00 and 17:11.  In the final shape of the film, loosening this rigidity of structure turned out to be more compelling. One can still, I hope, sense the underlining passage of time, but it is not instrumental to the emotional perception of the story. I ended up opting for the metaphor.


The Number 11

On a purely aesthetical level, the symmetry and simplicity of the number 11 somehow appeals to me. I’m sure the number itself has some numerological connotations, but honestly speaking, I never much cared to look into that.

Banal and Poignant

I’ve always found constraints to be stimulating. In the case of 11 Minutes, this additionally freed me from having to deal with conventional narrative devices. I really wasn’t interested in following character arches or motivations, presenting plausible storylines and plot points, or thinking in terms of beginning, middle and end.  My focus was on seeing my characters through a continuous series of almost abstract moments, as accidental and banal – or poignant – as only life can be. I enjoyed this strange mixture of the meaningful and the meaningless, of the relevant and the irrelevant. I was curious to see how the two blend together.


Order and Chaos

We shot 11 Minutes primarily in Warsaw, plus a week of shooting on the stage in Dublin and another week on the stage at Alvernia Studios near Cracow. The key to the selection was always pure production pragmatism. As to the location in Warsaw –we have indeed considered all of the major squares here. We chose the location eventually seen in the film, Plac Grzybowski, because it provided the most jarring contrast between the old and the new, between order and chaos, the beautiful and the ugly. The square itself, or indeed the city, is never named (and there is no reason it should be), but I hope the location somehow conveys the experience of jagged, dynamic crossroads. With the unexpected lurking behind every corner. The character, as well as the common expectation of “Polishness,” are changing. Poland has over the course of the past twenty years really undergone a dramatic change.