Imagine this! 11 MINUTES AGO Review

What do you get when you mix "Twelve Monkeys" with "Four Weddings and a Funeral"? If you are a director without a budget and you liked the structure of "Memento" you might end up with something like Bob Gebert's "11 Minutes Ago".

His film is a romantic comedy with a time travel twist, which shows the blossoming love between two people who meet each other in a series of eleven-minute-long segments. The order of these segments differs for each of them yet this doesn't hinder the development of their relationship.
In fact, this accelerates it...

Shot chronologically and in a single day but shown out-of-order through the eyes of a time traveler, "11 Minutes Ago" could be anything from convoluted comedy, pretentious arthouse experiment, ugly no-budget sci-fi or just incomprehensible dreck.
But instead the film cleverly focuses on its main characters, and becomes a pleasant little affair that is mostly successful and quite charming.

The movie did some time-traveling itself: the feature was circulating on festivals in 2007 already. In fact, since February of this year it is even out on DVD in the US.Yet as far as I know the 2009 Imagine Festival in Amsterdam was the first time it was shown in The Netherlands and we never reported about it before, so here follows a full review.

(More after the break!)

The Story:

In 48 years the human race is dying. Because of poor air quality people are fast losing interest in sex and as a result birthrates have become dangerously low. One nerdy scientist named Pack has made a time machine which allows him to travel into the past, so he can get a relatively unpolluted air sample from our present day and try to replicate it when back in the future. Problem is, each trip takes months to prepare and only allows him to be in the past for 11 minutes. No problem, right? Time enough to grab some air and return to the future.

But when Pack travels to our present day for the first time, he arrives in the middle of a wedding reception. Worse, all people seem to know him, and according to them "he has visited the party many times already". Some even know about his mission!

As a very puzzled Pack takes his air sample and prepares to leave, a cute bridesmaid barges in and kisses him straight on the mouth. And this is what convinces him that at least one other visit is necessary...


The Movie:

If I would need to sum this movie up in one word, that word is "clever", and I'll be using it a few times in the coming paragraphs.

The complete running time of "11 Minutes Ago" is made up by the 8 visits Pack pays to the wedding reception, and these visits were all filmed on the same day in chronological order. Most shots were done using camera's that are "in the film", so-called found footage made by people attending the party. The clever bit here is that writer / director Bob Gebert didn't need to insert an extra camera crew into an apartment that was already very crowded, and budgetwise it is also smart as all the cinematography is done by the actors.

But although the shooting schedule was completely chronological, the narrative completely follows the timeline that Pack experiences. So we see the last 11 minutes of the party first, then the 11 minutes before that etcetera. But just when it seems "11 Minutes Ago" copies "Memento" a bit too much, a technical bug has Pack skipping (and later recapturing) one timeslot, so it's not that straightforward either.
It never gets too complicated though, as each of the 8 segments is preceded by the simple schedule shown on the one-sheet above, with arrows covering where (or when) Pack has been, where (or when) he is now, and where (or when) he still needs to go.

With each trip to the past, Pack struggles to cope with people's changed perceptions of him, and he tries to find out which things they don't know yet because they'll start to happen in 5 minutes. But mostly, with each consecutive visit he falls more and more in love with Cynthia, one of the bridesmaids at the wedding. Much of the film hangs on the believability of this romance, but the clever thing here is that you only need to believe Pack's half of it.

During the first few trips, Pack is still the socially inept nerd and is shocked by the attention he suddenly gets from Cynthia, who clearly loves him and even seems to have had sex with him at some point. We don't have to believe Cynthia is falling in love with Pack: it's already happened, and is presented to us as a mystery. We do however fully believe Pack falling in love with Cynthia, and that part works flawlessly. Later in the movie the situation is reversed: Pack is fully in love and Cynthia doesn't know who he is, reluctant even to trust this stranger who is coming on to her so strongly. But as each meeting gets increasingly difficult, so does Pack grow more and more experienced. In the end he is able to make the most of their "first" meeting (last for him) because he already knows so much about her and has been able to literally think about it for years.

Romances always contain embarrassing moments at the start when both people try things out on one another, but with this couple the start for one person happens when the other is already deeply in love, meaning all "gaffs" by either Pack or Cynthia are instantly forgiven by the other person. It remains to be seen if the relation would look as believable when seen in chronological order but from Pack's perspective it works. It helps that there is chemistry between Ian Michaels and Christina Mauro as the central couple Pack and Cynthia. Pack's role must have been a continuity nightmare for any actor, especially since all the scenes were being shot with little time in between and out of order for Ian Michaels, so kudos to him for pulling this off.

Spicing up the romance plot are a multitude of reversed running gags and plot threads. Watch out for the impossible card trick, the disappearing camera, Pack's color change, the groom's erratic behavior, the strange appearance of balloon animals, the slutty bridesmaid having an affair with the bride's father...
Some of it is fun, some of it falls flat and some of it is groan worthy, but most things do pay off and that can't have been easy to arrange. It's hard to see beforehand whether or not a joke will work, especially if you have to edit parts of it out of order after shooting has finished, with no chance of redoing the shot later.

Actingwise, the actors here mostly look nice and natural, if not particularly noteworthy. The two leads are handsome enough to fit the plot but not suspiciously gorgeous and despite the high-concept story it gives the wedding a semi-realistic sheen. The same goes for the people playing the other guests.
As an aside (and an exception), Sarah Prikryl who plays fellow bridesmaid Susan IS suspiciously gorgeous, but hey, on every wedding there is always one isn't there? She is on the bottom right in the group-picture above, and is of half-Korean, half-Czech ethnicity. Now I haven't met many half-Korean-half-Czech people yet in my life, and by the looks of it that's a damn shame.

Back to the film: with nearly all the camerawork consisting of handheld shakycam footage, the sound and lights being what was actually there, and a total lack of special effects (if you don't count turning the lights off-and-on so someone can sneak out of the frame without being seen...), this film might actually qualify for a bona fide "Dogma 95" certificate!

I've already commented on how clever this film is, but at times you get the creepy feeling that all the actors are indeed in on the joke and things get to feel a bit smug as a result. Still, "11 Minutes Ago" is thankfully too short for this to get bothersome, and the movie doesn't outstay its welcome. By the time the end credits roll (and you'll keep watching because they show the whole movie again in fast-forward, in chronological order this time...) you won't have been bowled over but the experience will have been... nice. And when you think about how it was done, it's very impressive.

Conclusion:

A science fiction chick flick? Who would have thought it possible...
"11 Minutes Ago" is indeed a clever little movie, warts and all. Like with Shane Carruth's "Primer", it shows that you can do time travel sci-fi on an ultra-low budget provided you have some good ideas and a strong script.
Although sometimes its cleverness runs dangerously close to smugness, in general "11 Minutes Ago" delivers where it should. The central romance just falls on the right side of believability, the concept just manages to avoid alienating the audience by being too difficult, and the whole atmosphere is just nice enough to qualify as a good time.

On IMDB "11 Minutes Ago" has a very low rating of 4.8 out of 10 which is totally contrary to the professional reviews written about it, most of which are very positive. Maybe the audience expected terminators to show up? The Amsterdam crowd rated it much higher: a 6.9, which ties it with other Imagine Festival movies (new and old) like "The Clone Returns Home", "Seven Swords", "Wolfhound" and "American Psycho". That doesn't say anything about whether or not you will like it, but it does point towards "11 Minutes Ago" being an interesting picture.
I liked it and will safely recommend it...

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