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Review: Essential Killing

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Gallo is hunted man


- A prisoner escapes and fights for his survival. A political thriller by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski which was honoured at Venice in 2010

Review: Essential Killing

There is not a moment of respite for viewers in Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski’s 83-minute-long political thriller Essential Killing, full of blood and wild nature. Presented in competition at the Venice Mostra, it is a full-on indictment of imperialism, military violence and religious wars.

Vincent Gallo plays a presumed Afghan terrorist hunted down by the US Special Forces after his escape from a secret detention centre in Northern Europe. Forced to cross remote regions in the middle of winter, starving and frightened, the man becomes a ruthless killing machine, an elusive prey-predator in a tense man-hunt.

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Using a neat paraphrase of the Hollywood action movie, the Lódz-born director "takes apart" the hero and recreates him as an outsider and public enemy reduced to his most brutal essence. Skolimowski, who is an actor as well as director, puts Gallo’s body to the test; he is tortured and abandoned in a hostile environment of nature in its purest form.

The smooth rocks of the prologue in Afghanistan, the dazzling white snow (filming took place in Israel, Norway and Poland), the water in the streams and the wild animals are painfully contrasted with determined human madness. Gallo never utters a word, only grunts and moans, and even the woman who helps him (Emmanuelle Seigner) is mute.

Skolimowski doesn’t pass judgement. In the brief flashback scenes, we see the protagonist in the company of his wife and while he listens to the chant of a mullah calling on people to fight for Allah’s cause. But it is of no importance to the director whether this hunted man is a terrorist or a man fighting for his country.

The perspective adopted by the director is that from a helicopter, like embracing a mortifying reality and keeping one’s distance at the same time. Having arisen from news of the Polish government’s possible involvement in secret manoeuvres by the CIA on national territory, Essential Killing [+see also:
film focus
interview: Jerzy Skolimowski
film profile
is a stripped-down drama, "essentially" a film about the survival instinct.

(Translated from Italian)


international title: Essential Killing
original title: Essential Killing
country: Poland, Norway, Ireland, Hungary
sales agent: HanWay Films
year: 2010
directed by: Jerzy Skolimowski
screenplay: Jerzy Skolimowski, Ewa Piaskowska, James McManus
cast: Vincent Gallo, Emmanuelle Seigner, Stig Frode Henriksen, Nicolai Cleve Broch, David L. Price, Torgrim Ødegård, Varg Strande, Phillip Goss

main awards/selection

Biennale di Venezia 2010 In competition
Coppa Volpi for Best Actor
BFI London Film Festival 2010 

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