Vincent Gallo Is Back With ESSENTIAL KILLINGAugust 31, 2011
On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: ESSENTIAL KILLING (Tribeca Film).
Extreme outsider in an existential nowhere…
By Cynthia Kane
A man, Mohammad (Vincent Gallo) – warrior or terrorist, it’s not clear exactly who he is, and that’s important – is captured in the desert – possibly in Afghanistan – waterboarded and tortured, hooded and handcuffed by U.S. forces and transported to a nameless location in Eastern Europe.
It’s the wintery forests of Poland as we discover later through the few human beings he encounters, but a place completely unknown to him. He escapes into the frozen wilderness of winter, blanketed with snow, ice, a harsh environment completely foreign to him. Forced into extreme survival mode, how can he really escape these circumstances? What propels him to even try to survive?
Jerzy Skolimowski is an internationally renowned Polish director, writer, actor, painter, a graduate of the prestigious National Film School in Lodz, from where so many of the great Polish filmmakers and cinematographers hail.
A contemporary of Roman Polanski, he collaborated with him on KNIFE IN THE WATER, which brought them both not only fame but countless other films as well as bringing them both to the United States. I don’t know his films well – after this, I plan to see as many as I can find; his film THE SHOUT won the Grand Jury Prize in Cannes in 1978 – but I kind of knew him as an actor in two extraordinary films of this past decade, David Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES and Julian Schnabel’s BEFORE NIGHT FALLS. He’s one of those consummate artists that’s done it all and doesn’t narrowly box himself in - in terms of his creativity.
For 17 years, Skolimowski did not make a film, then in 2008 he made FOUR NIGHTS WITH ANNA, which opened the Directors Fortnight at Cannes. ESSENTIAL KILLING premiered at the Venice Film Festival where Vincent Gallo picked up the Best Actor Award. Both films are smaller scale than his previous work, smaller scale but asking and provoking huge fundamental questions about mankind and humanity. Both are primarily set around the Polish forest where Skolimowski now lives. Here man versus nature is at its base core.
Skolimowski came up with the idea after hearing and reading about the existence of CIA black sites in Eastern Europe. When a number of U.S. military planes landed about 20 kilometers from where he lives now in Poland, the idea leapt from the imagination with the actual plausibility that, while this story from which this film is based is fiction, that this very storyline might be based somewhat in fact.
The storyline is simple, direct. The layers and complexities of emotion are not. Like it or not, Mohammad is forced into an existence that explore the boundaries of human resistance. If he had the choice, would he be a killer? Now in this unknown world, he faces the struggle of survival completely alone; he is the ultimate victim of circumstance.
Vincent Gallo is a fearless actor, animalistic in terms of physicality and emotion - and generous in terms of his audience. Environment and landscape shape Mohammad’s character and his actions. The sense of entrapment of the forest is like the dark side of a fairy tale. Nature is both beautiful and brutal. He is nothing more than another of the forest’s creatures, a hunted animal trying to live one more day.
Late in the story, at the breaking point, Mohammad collapses on the doorstep of a farmhouse where a deaf woman, played by Emmanuelle Seigner (who is married to Roman Polanski in real life) finds him barely alive. This woman is the only moment where we experience compassion and real humanity. It’s as if she’s of another realm of existence altogether. She pulls him into the warmth to bandage his wounds and give him succor.
In the end, this film is neither political nor apolitical. The U.S. military and the fact that Mohammad is fighting from the other side in these current wars is more a setting from which to explore this finely crafted work from a long-silent master that will provoke much thought; it’s a disturbing parable for our sad and violent times.
- Cynthia Kane
Cynthia Kane reviews documentaries for On Demand Weekly. She is a writer and Sr Programming Manager for [ ITVS], overseeing the International Initiative for funding in their SF office. Prior she’s had many incarnations from actor to writer to producer. She co-created DOCday on Sundance Channel.
Look for ESSENTIAL KILLING (Tribeca Film) under your cable system's On Demand section.
Read Other Reviews By Cynthia Kane:
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS - DEMAND IT
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM - DEMAND IT
DEAR ALICE - DEMAND IT
KAREN CRIES ON THE BUS - DEMAND IT
MY DOG TULIP - DEMAND IT
WE ARE THE NIGHT - DEMAND IT
CEREMONY - DEMAND IT