Essential Killing or why avoiding Skolimowski’s films might be a good idea…

I want to catch up with all the reviews I should have written since June, but in the meantime it’s probably better if I keep up with what I’m watching currently. I don’t think it matters to anyone if I don’t post film reviews in the order I watched them, so here goes…


Essential Killing (Poland/Norway/Hungary/Ireland, 2010)

Seen: Tuesday, 16th November 2010 (cinema)
Rating: -2 (Detested It)
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Cast: Vincent Gallo, Emmanuelle Seigner
Plot: A Middle Eastern insurgent escapes from an American convoy in Eastern Europe. He must fight for his survival in an unknown place, in the middle of a severe winter.


The next time Skolimowski makes a film on a topic I’m interested in, I will try to talk myself out of seeing it :] I get that this film was not trying to give a detailed account of the realities of the war on terror, but I totally don’t get what it was trying to do… Show some nice shots of Polish landscapes perhaps? Show that sometimes people kill other people to survive?
I’m probably looking at it from totally the wrong angle, but all I know is that it annoyed the hell out of me because it was so painfully unresearched and without detail. There is actually no way to tell whether “Mohammed” (whose name is not mentioned at any point in the film - it’s the credits that say that was his name) was caught in Afghanistan or in Iraq. All the summaries and reviews I’ve come across say Afghanistan, but one of the American pilots in the film mention that “Mohammed” is “the jack of clubs” or some other important card in the US military playing cards, which would suggest the man was caught in Iraq (that would also explain why the American interrogator tries to speak to “Mohammed” in Arabic, “Mohammed” for his part doesn’t speak in the film at all, so we have no idea what language he speaks). On the other hand, when “Mohammed” starts to have hallucinations from lack of food, cold, pain etc. he sees a woman covered in blue and I think they meant the blue cloth to be a burqa (that shade of blue is the standard colour of a burqa in Afghanistan, although what they used was most certainly not a burqa :]). In Iraq women were never required to wear burqas AFAIK.
Clearly, for Skolimowski, it is completely unimportant what this man’s nationality is or what his ideals are. Other than him having a beard and having been caught in a Muslim country (although I’m not entirely sure on that point ;-P), there are no signs that he is in fact Muslim. For one thing, we don’t see “Mohammed” praying even once - even when he’s at his most desperate and frustrated.
The realities on the American side of things don’t seem important to Skolimowski either. The US military is shown in a very stereotypical way. I found it laughable how “Mohammed” is subjected to water-boarding almost instantly after he’s captured. AFAIK, water-boarding hasn’t been used all that much in the war on terror. There are relatively few prisoners who have reported its usage. Sleep deprivation, stress positions and slapping prisoners around are way more common apparently.
And even if a van transporting prisoners had an accident (as portrayed in the film), the escape of a prisoner would be very unlikely and certainly not possible in the way the film portrays it. According to prisoner accounts, when terror suspects are transported by the US military, they are hooded, have ear plugs inserted and are chained in such a way that they can’t even stand up. If “Mohammed” were transported in accordance with protocol then he would not have been able to escape in the way the film shows it.
I suppose this is a crappy review cause it’s not really about the film, but just me complaining about how the details don’t add up :] It’s pretty clear the film was not meant to show accurate details, so I’m judging it on something it never aspired to be. The thing is, I just don’t get why somebody would want to make a “fairytale” (which is the word Skolimowski used to describe it in a Polish interview) on this particular topic. If you want to make a fairytale about a man trying to survive in the wilderness, in a place he knows nothing about, then why set it in the reality of the war on terror and then pay no attention to getting the details of that reality right? It makes absolutely no sense to me.

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