ESSENTIAL KILLING (director/writer: JerzySkolimowski, Jerzy; screenwriter: Ewa Piaskowska; cinematographer: Adam Sikora; editors: Réka Lemhényi/Maciej Pawlinski; music: Pawel Mykietyn; cast: Vincent Gallo (Mohammed), Emmanuelle Seigner (Margaret), Zach Cohen (American Contractor 1), Iftach Ofir (American Contractor 2), Cleve Broch (Nicolai), Frode Henriksen (Stig); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Skolimowski, Jerzy/Ewa Piaskowska; New VideoTribeca Film; 2010-Poland-in English/Polish/Arabic, with English subtitles when necessary)
“Skolimowski’s fresh approach keeps us on guard.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Veteran Polish cult film-maker JerzySkolimowski, (“Barrier”/Walkover”/”Deep End”) is the auteur of this thinking man’s surreal action film, that goes for long periods without dialogue and tries to make us think of the futility of war by depicting how ugly it gets. Though that anti-war theme is a familiar one in movie-land, Skolimowski’s fresh approach keeps us on guard and his stark visual use of the landscape keeps things interesting. The film’s star, Vincent Gallo, grunts a few times but never manages to say a word during the entire movie.
In a cave in the remote dusty mountains of Afghanistan, a US military operation is in progress to capture the Taliban fighter who killed an American soldier to obtain a rocket launcher. But before he can be captured he fires that rocket launcher and kills two crack-smoking asshole talkative American contractors and a regular infantryman soldier tracking the terrorist. A hovering helicopter soon locates the terrorist Mohammed (Vincent Gallo) and brings him down with a missile, and then brings the injured and temporarily deafened killer combatant back to the base for interrogation, harassment, a beating and torture. When the terrorist is uncooperative, he’s transferred to a secret detention center in an unnamed Northern European country. But the truck crashes and goes over an embankment, and he’s able to escape. On the run, Mohammed uses his wits and commits so-called essential killings to avoid capture in the snowy woodlands by an unclassified army and its dogs and dresses in the clothes of those he killed. When bloodied and severely wounded, Mohammed‘s taken in by a pretty deaf-mute woman farmer (Emmanuelle Seigner, the long-time girlfriend of the director’s pal Roman Polanski) and nursed back to health and fed before he leaves.
It’s hard for an American audience to root for an Arab terrorist, especially one who chain saws to death an innocent logger, kills American soldiers and commits other murders; and it’s difficult not to question the pic’s forced agenda as being too iffy or even laughably irrelevant. It‘s a war film that’s right on top of current events, therefore it’s fair to judge the pic not only for its execution values but if it gives us a combatant whose humanity can be respected. Instead it aims to show us human beings are capable of doing any atrocity to survive.
The provocative violent black humored apolitical film is risky film-making, one that asks the viewer, in its own daring way, when does a combatant lose his humanity? Is it when he resorts to torture his enemy and/or when he kills innocent civilians for his own survival? The viewer must also endure a gross forced breastfeeding act depicted by the anti-hero on a poor farm girl.
REVIEWED ON 3/10/2013 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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