The US and NATO war in Afghanistan did not generate yet too many movies. Certainly, not many good movies. A few war and B-series films dealt with the conflict in a  one-sided manner, focusing on the action, demonizing or at best not dealing with the other side but in a very schematic and generally negative manner. Very few dealt with the dilemmas and traumas of the warriors, or of the families back home. The other side was again absent, a far menace at best. Essential Killing – an European co-production directed by Polish director with a couple of well known French actors in the lead roles comes from a very different perspective. So different that it falls in the other extreme, and the result is in my opinion a failure.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1561768/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1561768/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

 

Let me start with the good things about this film. It’s cinematography is very expressive and fits quite well the subject and the action. A Taliban prisoner is captured by the American or NATO forces after killing three soldiers. He is interrogated with brutality, and then taken aboard the plane to another country, supposed European, certainly with harsh winters and very different from the hot desert he dreams to while fighting for his life. The frozen forests, the orange and white uniforms, the silhouettes of the soldiers, the dogs and the wolves, all fit well. One can wonder what actors like and do in such a film, but they are here and they do well their job. If ‘Essential Killing’ was only a survival story, it would have worked, although some details are not completely clear (how does exactly the running prisoner escape the wolves? we just see him walking free after a scene in which he seemed to be turn into pieces by a hoard of about six beasts).

 

(video source Movieclips Trailers)

 

The problem is that ‘Essential Killing’ tries to be more than a survival story in in what it selects to show and what it selects not to show. Yes, the brutal methods of interrogation are repulsive, and transporting prisoners in other countries without a judgment may be against the international laws. Yes, even the harsher enemies are human and they have their dreams and they fight for their lives. Human solidarity also works beyond language or cultural barriers. This is fine as well. However the one sided view of the conflict in which the bad guys are ‘humanized’ to the edge of idealization (dreaming to the beautiful woman covered by the celestial blue burka, come on!) and the good guys are demonized (did not the three soldiers killed in the opening scene have their dreams too?) can work only for people who landed from another planet or are truly convinced that the Taliban are the good guys and the ones fighting them are the opposite. ‘Essential Killing’ may tell some kind of a partial truth, but partial truths are often indistinguishable from lies.