You’d be a Stubborn Ass not to watch Eo
Film review By Sara Darling
How to pronounce the title of this film? It’s as questionable as the noise itself, but with the state of current affairs at the moment, spending 86 minutes watching an estranged donkey was light entertainment of the highest degree; and although there were no fight scenes or other typical blockbuster paraphernalia, this melancholy movie is well worthy of it’s Jury’s Choice award.
Set in present-day Poland, Eo is a loose remake of Robert Bresson’s 1966 film Au Hasard Balthazar, and dips into the life of a donkey born in a Polish circus. The donkey, we are led to believe, knows nothing apart from living a travelling life and performing gymnastic tricks with his caring Big Top co-star Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska), so when he is “rescued” by animal rights activists, his new life begins. Interestingly, Poland has a strong affiliation with animal pressure groups, and in real life, Wrocław-based Cyrk Wictoria (Wiktoria Circus) ceased to use live beasts and began to incorporate holographic animals into their show in 2020 after protests about animal cruelty- which may or may not have inspired the adaptation.
Director Jerzy Skolimowski follows the basic premise of the original, with a stark difference being the use of “Donkey Vision” (meaning the audience sees the plot through the same vision as Eo). So expect very little dialogue, however interesting angles of the scenery are punctuated with grunts and heaves.
Once liberated from the only kind human he has ever known, Eo is thrust on an unwitting adventure where his life is comparable to a refugee. Shunted around to a variety of farms, and owners who don’t quite know what to do with him, it’s no wonder he tries to escape! When there is no dialogue, the cinematography takes over as the film meanders through the stunning vistas of Poland and Italy and we see Eo breaking free from sanctuaries which were supposed to be his saving, presumably in search of his one true love, Kasandra- or freedom in general? However, as much as she is missing him too, they are never reunited and she keeps missing him, as Eo escapes time and time again.
Although seemingly enjoying the privilege of roaming at his own pace, in some dramatic scenic scenes, Eo is not destined to be a creature of nature and is soon re-captured by a street cleaner, and inadvertently becomes the lucky charm of a football team, with a surreal and certainly not suitable for children scene where he is beaten by football hooligans who take out their frustration on our unassuming friend; and is perhaps Skolimowski’s comment on bullying. Even when he is discarded, presumed dead, he is picked up by a gang trading in illicit horse and donkey-meat, which could have been his curtains.
However, in the even more random, final segment, our four-legged friend has a lucky rendezvous with a handsome, yet gambling-addicted aristocrat, who bizarrely rescues him and takes him home to Italy! The result is a donkey- free scene consisting of son and Isabelle Huppert in a shouting match, whilst Eo is left to daydream about his long lost Kasandra.
Even though there is not a lot of dialogue, it is worth concentrating on this movie; and if you focus really hard, you may note the six different animals who switched it up in the leading role! Carefully cast by Skolimowski, who when he accepted the Jury Prize at Cannes last spring, thanked all six of the donkeys who played Eo by name.
EO – released in cinemas 3rd February
“OUTSIDERS AND EXILES: THE FILMS OF JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI, presented in
partnership with the 21st Kinoteka Polish Film Festival runs at BFI Southbank from 27 March
– 30 April.