Poland, Norway, Ireland, Hungary


Captured by the US military in Afghanistan, Mohammed is transported to a secret detention centre in Europe. When the vehicle he is riding in crashes, he finds himself suddenly free and on the run in a snow-blanketed forest, a world away from the desert home he knew. Relentlessly pursued by an army that does not officially exist, Mohammed must confront the necessity to kill in order to survive.

Director's Statement

I like to think I live a quiet existence, staying away from the havoc of city life, enjoying splendid near-isolation. After FOUR NIGHTS WITH ANNA, I toyed with the idea of making another small film set in the forests around my house in Poland. And suddenly this big secret CIA operation landed just around the corner. It naturally has lent itself to a dramatic fantasy that became ESSENTIAL KILLING. The film is obviously not based on a true story. Or else it would either have already made headlines around the globe or it would have remained a sealed top-secret special force operation. But given the fact that US military planes actually landed less than 20 kilometres from where I live, the plausibility of the situation portrayed in the film seemed, when I got the initial idea for the storyline, absolutely exciting. In ESSENTIAL KILLING, a man is placed in circumstances that explore the boundaries of human resistance. It’s a struggle of one against many. Because we are prone to keep the side of the underdog, the story tests the measures of our empathy for another human being. I did not want the politics to extend beyond this immediate life or death struggle. The film is not a commentary on America or Afghanistan and I believe that would have been too easy, and most of all distracting to emphasize too much on the U.S. military. The idea was to have massive power against one. Yes, if you depict waterboarding torture by Americans, it will be controversial. If your protagonist is a suspected Muslim terrorist, it invites controversy. But all this is depicted in the film matter-of-factly, reserving judgement. My interest was in the chase, the idea that in war and brute, primal survival, every human can be both predator and prey. Landscape, aside from interesting me visually, is clearly the best key to the character and his outsider status. Landscape establishes the character, his predicament, it tells the story. Landscape in this film made any expository dialogue superfluous.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Jerzy Skolimowski

Written by: Jerzy Skolimowski, Ewa Piaskowska

Produced by: Ewa Piaskowska, Jerzy Skolimowski

Cinematography: Adam Sikora

Editing: Maciej Pawliński, Réka Lemhényi

Production Design: Joanna Kaczyńska

Original Score: Paweł Mykietyn

Cast: Vincent Gallo, Emmanuelle Seigner

Nominations and Awards

  • European Cinematographer – Prix Carlo Di Palma 2011
  • Feature Film Selection 2011