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DVD Review: ESSENTIAL KILLING

ESSENTIAL KILLING

reviewer: Pierre Badiola
Rated: 15(UK)
Release Date: 11th July 2011
DirectorJerzy Skolimowski
CastVincent GalloEmmanuelle SeignerZach Cohen

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Jerzy Skolimowski’s 83 minute, low budget, near wordless story of a fugitive terrorist on the run certainly sounds ambitious on paper. Even more so when you factor in the choice of elusive provocateur Vincent Gallo in the leading role and the snowy, barren plains of Eastern Europe (of which has little to do with the American-Afghanistan conflict) as the setting.

In the opening scenes we witness Gallo happen upon a rocket propelled grenade launcher which he uses to kill a unit of American soldiers in the dusty (presumably) Afghani desert, only then to be captured by a circling helicopter. From there he is tortured and transported as a prisoner of war to an unknown location, iconic black hood and orange-jumpsuit in tow. En route his vehicle incurs a miraculous crash which leaves him with a chance to escape into the surrounding wintery woods. However, conventional thriller this is not, and both pursuers and protagonist are not given much characterisation beyond this basic premise. The action instead proceeds cautiously and minimally, and comes loaded with symbolism.

For much of the runtime we painstakingly follow Gallo as he silently evades his captors, forges through the snow and scrapes together what he can find in the wild for food. There is the occasional confrontation, and when they occur it helps inject adrenaline into the otherwise limping story, but those looking for the ruthless killing promised in the title may be left disappointed.

The most interesting aspects are in fact those relating to the film’s abstract tone, and the ambiguous treatment of it’s nameless lead. Neither motivated by anger or very much fear, Gallo reacts to his surroundings in terms relating only to survival. What little backstory there is takes shape completely through fleeting dream sequences in which we see his wife, his child and his religious commitment to the Jihadi cause — none of which do much to humanise him or give us a good sense of his real moral drive.

In scenes where we see Gallo get caught in a bear trap and resort to a crawl, suckle like a baby from a woman’s bosom for sustenance, and ultimately lay motionless at the hands of a maternal guardian-angel, the film charts an almost primordial descension of man. The war may have nurtured this person into the state of an adult through combat, but in escape he slowly returns to that of a baby.

The ultimate portrait Essential Killing paints is that of a parable; wordless in order to ensure translatability across cultures and lacking in the specificity that would otherwise pinpoint the story at a definitive place and time. Skolimowski seems less interested in telling a story of survival than he is in recounting a mythic tale; one that could have been passed down generations. The snow laden forestlands of Poland even add an almost fairytale layer; both soldiers and terrorist are placed out of their element, made equal by the white-wash of frost.

The lesson is a little harder to figure out, although the lone, bloodstained horse wandering without an owner in the accompanying final shot indicates that sometimes the ideals long outlive the idealist.

MOVIE RATING: 3/5

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