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FNE at Venice IFF 2010: Essential Killing

2010-09-12

VENICE: Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski deservedly won the Venice film festival's Special Jury prize for the courageous film that is a directing tour de force. The film begins with shots of the dry and desert lands of Afghanistan where the main character, Mohammed, a Taliban fighter, is captured and transported to a secret detention center in central Europe.

But Mohammed escapes when the transport carrying him to the camp crashes and he is forced to survive in an alien land of snow covered forests. The contrast between the Afghan landscapes and the central European winter forests could not be more striking. Somehow Mohammed, played masterfully by Vincent Gallo, must survive in the world.

Skolimowski takes us on a journey into uncharted moral territory as Mohammed embarks on a hopeless trek across the countryside where he kills to survive. The tension of the story is maintained almost totally without dialogue and it never falters. Even in this harsh environment there is kindness as Mohammed is taken in by a mute Polish peasant woman who hides him and cares for his wounds.

Skolimowski speaking to FNE said that he was staying at his cottage in the Polish countryside in the winter when his car suddenly nearly slide off the road and the idea for the entire film care to him in a single moment. Knowing that there were supposed to be secret rendition bases in the forest not far from his cottage he thought about what might happen if one of the prisoners were to escape into this alien winter landscape. What happens when you have to kill to survive???

Like Mohammed we never actually know where the film is set but this just adds to the terror as he grows increasingly desperate for food, eating insects and even anything else he can find or grab to survive. We see the whole film through Mohammed's eyes. It's a violent, savage vision. The moral ambiguity we might feel in the beginning for Mohammed as a victim changes as his struggle to survive drives him to a series of savage attacks. Gallo deserves his award as Best Actor of the Venice festival 2010 for the emotional intensity he brings to the role and all without the use of dialogue relying solely on his body and facial expressions.

At the age of 72 Skolimowski has lost none of the artistic energy that has made his international reputation. This film will stand the test of time.

Essential Killing directed by Jerzy Skolimowski

Poland, Norway, Hungary, Ireland, 83'
Cast: Vincent Gallo, Emmanuelle Seigner

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