Review: EO

It’s no spoiler to say right at the outset that Jerzy Skolimowski’s impressionistic take on the life of a donkey ends with the claim that absolutely no animals were harmed or otherwise inconvenienced during its making, even if there are scenes where the donkey and other creatures are depicted as being mistreated or even killed. In fact, this particular film should open with such a message, because while most viewers will probably assure themselves that filmmakers of Skolimowski’s calibre are not monsters, it wasn’t that long ago that directors wouldn’t think twice about hurting animals for the sake of art. The point about EO, though, is that the world is not only a cruel place, but a ridiculous one, and while the donkey’s adventures in the land of humans often seem fraught with potential suffering, it’s comparable to the suffering that humans inflict on one another. 

But unlike Bresson’s famous donkey movie, EO has a more abstract effect, and not just owing to Skolimowski’s fantastical visual sense. Opening with a psychedelic scene using red strobes, the movie sets its four-legged protagonist into a relatively comfortable situation as an act in a traveling Polish circus. EO is loved unconditionally by his trainer, a young woman named Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska), who, nevertheless, can’t hold onto him when the circus goes bankrupt (in the midst of demonstrations protesting animal exploitation, no less) and EO is sold off to a stable where he carts food for show horses. Skolimowski seems to be making a case for a class system among hoofed critters, but in any case, EO appears to have the better life because the show horses here give off the vibe that they resent their exploitation. Without any explanation, EO is then sold to a farm where he is visited by Kasandra for the last time, a farewell that seems to upset EO to no end, causing him to escape in search of her and thus begin his aimless odyssey through worlds both natural and manmade. Many of these adventures have a picaresque quality that play up EO’s innate innocence, though, in fact, he can be proactive, as when he kicks a furrier unconscious while the latter butchers captive foxes for their skins. Even when he’s a victim, the brutality is leavened by a sense of absurdity, as when he walks into a soccer match and somehow brings good luck to the home team only to end up getting beaten by hooligan fans of the losing team. Certainly, the most bizarre episode has him rounded up by poachers who are after horses, but manages to escape when the guy delivering him is shockingly murdered in the parking lot of a truck stop. And I don’t even know what to make of the Italian student who adopts EO and brings him back to his villa, where his stepmother, played by Isabelle Huppert, suggests some sort of sexual intrigue straight out of a Visconti epic. 

Viewers’ appreciation of all this will have less to do with their love of animals than with their ability to attribute to EO the qualities of a hero. Except for the scene where he pines for Kasandra (who, honestly, doesn’t deserve his love) EO never demonstrates any agency as a lead character, but that seems to fit Skolimowki’s metaphorical purposes. He’s cute and passive, and so his destiny, which is handled without added drama, feels all the more tragic and troubling. Of course, I’m glad the six donkeys that played EO weren’t traumatized at Skolimowki’s hands, but the character didn’t deserve the fate he literally wandered into. It may be the cruelest joke of all.

In Polish, English, Italian and French. Now playing in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6359-8608), Shinjuku Cinema Qualite (03-3352-5645), Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551).

EO home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2022 Skopia Film, Aliena Films, Warmia-Masuria Film Fund/Centre for Education and Cultural Initiatives in Olsztyn, Podkarpackie Regional Film Fund, Steta Kurltury Wroclaw, Polwell, Moderator Inwestycje, Veilo

This entry was posted in Movies and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.