BIFF 2013 - To Kill A Beaver - Cinema Review

'The finale challenges the audience not only to question what they have already seen but also to question character.'

Some significant ethical questions are raised by To Kill A Beaver's plot, which sees middle-aged assassin Eryk (Eryk Lubos) engaging in a sexual relationship for large parts of the film with a girl (Agnieszka Pawelkiewicz) who has told us she is in high school. By the finale, which is as gripping as the rest of the film, there is some hint that things might not be as we have seen them. Still, director J. J. Kolski depicts their relationship graphically throughout, whilst it is arguable that Malgorzata Zacharska's costume design fetishizes the character, and, even if the state of play has been addressed by the end, a significant feeling of discomfort may remain. Pawelkiewicz is twenty-three and I saw little to suggest that the character could not have been made a similar age.

That element of To Kill A Beaver is, in many ways, a shame, and may be a major ethical blot for some viewers, on what otherwise is a terrific Euro-Thriller. As Eryk holes out in his family's old home, he receives coded messages about his next job from a mysterious voice on the phone who seems to be able to see everything he does and has left several hidden clues in the house grounds regarding his mission objective. Wound-up by the beavers who continuously block the brook at the bottom of his garden, Eryk is perturbed by the arrival of the nameless teenage girl, who seems far too clever for her own good.

From this point, To Kill A Beaver evolves into a tremendous two-handed battle, as the girl seeks to tame Eryk whilst running from her father and Eryk tries, somewhat half-heartedly, to bat off her affections whilst preparing for his imminent employment. Kolski falls into the trap sometimes of getting bogged down in spy-technology but, for the most part, he succeeds in crafting a grubby location for the equally grubby hitman to bide his time and recover from a fracturing psyche.

The finale challenges the audience not only to question what they have already seen but also to question character. I was reminded of Sam Cooney's excellent essay on the glorification of the hitman character in popular culture. Throughout the opening segment we are encouraged to identify with the clearly tortured Eryk but by the end, are we actually being encouraged to see him as the villain? The answer to that question will hold the key for many in the level of forgiveness they grant Kolski in the presentation of Pawelkiewicz's character.

To Kill A Beaver runs for some one-hundred minutes but Kolski appears to be a master of pacing and not once does his film threaten to slow, despite its limited cast and location. It is interesting to note the afterthought in the festival guide that states this is ripe for a Hollywood remake. Certainly there are more than passing similarities to Leon, which though not a Hollywood production, made a huge impression on the US film industry. You wonder though quite how much the female character will have to change, if this is to make it to the mainstream.

To Kill A Beaver screens again on Wednesday 17th April.

The 19th Bradford International Film Festival runs from 11th to 21st April 2013 at the National Media Museum and other venues near to the city.

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