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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » October 1, 2010
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I’m an Outsider
October 1, 2010   
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Jerzy Skolimowski, talks to Grzegorz Chlasta.

How did the idea for Essential Killing come about?
It was me being lazy! I was able to film Four Nights With Anna near my house in the Mazury Lake District. I didn’t have to get up at five in the morning to get to the film set or live in a shabby hotel. I had the comfort of living in my own house. And I wanted to do that again. I looked around in the forest, but good stories don’t exactly grow on trees. I was aware, of course, that I lived 20 kilometers from the airfield in Szymany where supposedly CIA airplanes with prisoners from the Middle East on board landed. It now looks increasingly likely that this actually happened. But I naturally scrapped that as a subject.

Because it’s a purely political affair. I’m not interested in politics or anything that happens around it. I seldom read the press. I don’t watch television. I don’t give a damn about what’s going on around me. I’m a recluse. An outsider.

I believe there is no reasonable way you can intervene in all the developments here in Poland and around the world. To me, the conflict in Afghanistan is just a background from which I extract this particular guy and follow him throughout the movie.

Why did you make the movie, then?
I was driving home one winter night. Even though my car is big and safe and has four-wheel drive, it skidded on a bend and almost rolled down a hill. I managed to stop at the last moment. And then it occurred to me that I was just two kilometers from Szymany, on the road from the airfield. Convoys [linked to CIA operations] could have driven down that very road. And if it happened to me, someone who knew the road and knew you had to watch out for wild animals there, it could have happened to them as well.

And then what went through your mind?
Forget politics! But the story of a guy who has no idea where he is, sees snow for the first time in his life and runs through the snow in shackles and a drill jacket—now that was a story for me! A story of a man fighting for his life. Alone against everybody else. It’s a movie about an outsider.

About you?
No. Outsiders in general. One of us.

But he kills American soldiers and people who cross his path.
He’s not a role model. But it’s all about being an outsider. This is not a movie about politics and war. It is a contemporary parable about man.

Is that why we never find out if he was a terrorist or not?
Yes. For his story is the same, no matter if he was a terrorist or a completely innocent man.

Where is he running to?
It’s about instincts. He was tortured and doesn’t know where they’re taking him. Maybe to kill him?

Why did you pick Vincent Gallo for the main role?
He has something animalistic in him. He is dangerous, aggressive, obstreperous. His intelligence makes him attack people, because he won’t accept any rubbish, lies, bullshit.

Is he a narcissist?
Yes, to some extent. But he’s self-aware enough to never pose for the camera (...). This is essential, as in this role, he can be anything but charming, he can’t appeal to the viewer. And he’s phenomenal in the role. This is an Oscar performance. Plain and simple.

Will you get an Oscar?
That’s a long road, and which depends on how much cash you want spend. It’s a race in which studios with unlimited budgets push for their movies. Do you know that none of the movies I tipped as likely winners has ever made it through the Film Academy’s selection process?

Because you’re an outsider.
Well, yes. Nobody makes movies like I do. As a result, this movie stands no chance or conversely, it has a very good chance of viewers liking it. Because it’s so different.

You have spent a large part of your life in the United States. What do you think of America?
I like it less and less. It was a different country when I settled in the States 25 years ago. You could feel an air of optimism. That then faded into pessimism, apathy, restrictions and even anxiety about how people would cope. I got tired of the country.

Why do you make movies and paint pictures?
To me, creativity justifies my existence. However that sounds.

Does existence need to be justified?
Well, it does, to a certain extent. You know, I’m really awfully lazy. I don’t feel like doing anything. At the same time, I’m not modest and know I have talent. That’s been proven in many fields. And so I guess that if I didn’t do anything with it, it’d be as if I was wasting a gift from God, so to speak. So I do do something in order to justify the fact that I’m here.

Jerzy Skolimowski was born May 5, 1938, in Warsaw. He majored in Polish studies and ethnography at the University of Warsaw, but he then chose to pursue a career in the film industry. In 1963, he graduated from the Directing Department of the £ód¼ Film School. He co-wrote the scripts for Knife in the Water (1962), a movie that brought international acclaim to director Roman Polanski, and Innocent Sorcerers (1960), one of the first movies directed by Andrzej Wajda.

Skolimowski made his debut as a film director with Rysopis (Identification Marks: None) in 1961. After the communist authorities at the time prevented him from completing production on a movie entitled Hands Up! and stopped its release, Skolimowski decided to leave Poland. He did not get to complete the film until 1981.

He went on to make movies in Britain, Italy and the United States. His most successful pictures include Le Depart (1967), which won the Golden Bear at the 17th International Berlin Film Festival; The Shout, which won the Grand Prix of the 1978 Cannes Film Festival; Moonlighting, which took the best script award at Cannes in 1982; and The Lightship, which claimed the Special Jury Prize at the 1985 Venice Film Festival.

Skolimowski was a judge at the film festivals in Cannes (1987) and Venice (2000-2001). He returned to Poland in 1991 to make 30 Door Key, a movie based on a novel by Witold Gombrowicz, a Polish literary classic of the absurd. The movie flopped and Skolimowski took a 17-year break from directing. In 2008, he made an intimate drama entitled Four Nights With Anna.

Skolimowski is also a keen actor and since 1960, he has appeared in 16 movies. Movie producers are particularly fond of casting him as a Russian and so his roles include the demonic KGB Colonel Chaiko in White Nights, a political drama by Taylor Hackford (1985), and Uncle Stepan, a Russian immigrant in the action movie entitled Eastern Promises by David Cronenberg (2007).

For many years, Skolimowski has been a successful painter, selling his work in art galleries in the United States and Europe. He has also published several books of poetry and written several theater plays.
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