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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » October 1, 2010
Culture
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Polish Film Wows Jury in Venice
October 1, 2010   
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The film Essential Killing directed by Jerzy Skolimowski won two prizes at the Venice Film Festival, in the biggest success for the Polish film industry in recent years.

Skolimowski won the Special Jury Prize, the second most important award of the festival after the Golden Lion. Vincent Gallo, who stars in the film, claimed the Volpi Cup for Best Actor.

Essential Killing is a Polish-Irish-Norwegian-Hungarian co-production made on a budget of more than zl.8 million. The Polish Film Institute (PISF) contributed zl.5 million. The film was shot in Poland, Norway and Israel—in a canyon near the Dead Sea.

The screenplay for the film, written by Skolimowski with Ewa Piaskowska, was inspired by world media reports in recent years about the alleged presence of secret CIA detention centers in Central and Eastern Europe. Nationals of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Arab countries suspected by the CIA of terrorism may have been detained and interrogated in such prisons in various European countries, including Poland, according to unconfirmed but credible data gathered by international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe. Media reports suggest that many of the suspects, kidnapped in their own countries and then transported to Europe, were tortured while being questioned in secret detention centers. One of the prisons was allegedly located in a Polish intelligence training center in the village of Kiejkuty, near Szymany airfield in northeastern Poland.

Essential Killing tells a fictional story of an Afghan man named Mohammed captured in Afghanistan after killing three American soldiers. Mohammed is sent to Europe. He manages to break free after the military vehicle in which he is being carried overturns on a slippery road. Plunged in a completely unknown environment, the fugitive tries to avoid recapture. He sees snow for the first time in his life and has to run away through mounds of snow in subzero temperatures. Chased like an animal, he kills everyone he encounters. Despite this, critics say, the viewer paradoxically starts empathizing with him.

Skolimowski says Essential Killing is not a political film. He adds that he was interested only in depicting the universal story of a man forced by circumstances to fight for his life at any cost and using any means available. The country to which Mohammed has been taken is not named in the film; the viewer does not know where the struggle for his life takes place nor is it clear where he wants to escape to. The main character does not utter a single word during the film’s 83 minutes.

Quentin Tarantino, who chaired the jury, said during the awards ceremony Sept. 11 that Skolimowski’s film was painful and masculine. He added that he valued films where the viewer finds it difficult to like the main character.

With the prizes it won in Venice, Essential Killing stands a chance of being distributed around the world. Movie industry experts say it is especially important to find a distributor for the U.S. market because this could enable the film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Many critics say the film has a chance to win an Oscar because of its quality and subject matter, which still attracts the interest of the American public.

As there is almost no dialogue in the film, Essential Killing does not need to compete for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Picture category, especially as Poland has already submitted Jacek Borcuch’s film All That I Love as its entry in this category. Essential Killing may be entered together with English-language productions.

The last time Polish filmmakers scored a notable success in Venice was in 1993, when Krzysztof Kie¶lowski’s Three Colors. Blue grabbed the Golden Lion award.
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