The Plot: EO the donkey is taken from his circus by animal welfare. Over the course of the new few weeks, we follow EO‘s journey as he travels through modern Poland encountering many different people, environments and situations that might shape his future. As he passes from one set of hands to another, he observes humans in all their joy, folly and uncertainty…
The Verdict: Trust veteran Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski to come up with something entirely original and idiosyncratically unique. That’s his trademark of course. He made the unusual horror The Shout in the seventies and more recently the tense Irish co-production Essential Killing with another maverick, actor Vincent Gallo. His latest film EO shows no signs of the 86-year-old slowing down, his fervour for filmmaking and distinctive visual style ever present. If you think that Skolimowski has gone soft in telling a story told through the eyes of a nomadic donkey, think again. While EO is a film that has the love of animals and nature on its mind (as the end credits declare), it’s also a depiction of how they’re treated by humans who often regard them as nothing more than just an animal. These animals also have thoughts and feelings, something which Skolimowski drives home.
While there has been a recent run of documentaries focusing on animals and their welfare (e.g. Gunda, Cow), EO is very much its own thing. It sets itself apart by being fictional for starters, but it also has the impression of being a documentary given that it follows a donkey’s journey from working in a circus to apparent freedom. Within the limitations of what that means of course, given the various hands he passes through. Co-written by Skolimowski and Ewa Piaskowska and featuring the still luminous Isabelle Huppert in a small role, the focus is very much on EO and the other animals he encounters in the wild and on the farm – horses, foxes, wolves and more. It’s fair to say that the petty humans in the film take a back seat and perhaps this is the way it should be. When the camera briefly moves away to focus on a human character, it feels a little less involving.
The reason for that is because of the way Skolimowski shoots the natural world and the animals who inhabit it with a sense of quiet wonder and mysticism. A late-night journey through a forest takes on a magical quality, with a drone camera flying through the forest lit in blood-red light reminiscent of an epic Kubrickian shot. This is beautifully underscored by Pawel Mykietyn’s evocative score, which brings emotion to EO‘s nomadic story without the danger of anthropomorphising him (a common problem in films about animals). There’s a soulful sense of purpose to EO‘s journey – he’s not just an observer but a participant as he rebels at various points. Not that you can tell from the way the film was shot, but EO was portrayed by no less than six different donkeys. It’s a seamless, unified performance which drives the film along and comfortably outstrips the briefly sketched human performances (even Huppert). EO is a beautifully shot and well-made film with much to say about animal welfare. With his particular delivery style, Skolimowski has ensured that donkey rides on the beach won’t look the same again. Hypnotic stuff that is as much about the visual power of cinema as the power of a simple message.
Rating: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
In short: Hypnotic
Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski.
Starring Sandra Drzymalska, Isabelle Huppert, Lorenzo Zurzolo, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz.