Review: ‘EO, A Gorgeous Portrait Of A Donkey, Is The Movie Youve Been Braying For

Review: ‘EO, A Gorgeous Portrait Of A Donkey, Is The Movie Youve Been Braying For

In one of the most poignant scenes in 84-year-old Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski's "Eo," a donkey gets lost in the woods. Night fell, but the pools of the moon lit up this dark, silent world in all its brilliant splendor. A small frog quickly jumped to the surface of the stream. A pretty spider is weaving its web. An owl observes the donkey from its tree, as if registering the presence of the intruder. There are also a few howling wolves, a sentient red fox, and a few green lasers over time, which announce the presence of nearby hunters, whose shots disturb the tranquility of this forest.

The entire sequence tells much of the film's story in miniature. From time to time, this donkey called Eo (an approximation of the sound it makes) will experience a moment of freedom to approach certain people and put them in danger. Whether that's likely to make "EO" sound like a whole lot of brutality isn't certain, though Skolimowski can talk about his decades-old fondness for films like "The Departure" (1967) and "Essential Murder." (2010). . He knows that people can be nice, but they can also be abusive, often with no regard for the rights and welfare of other animals. The beauty that Kolimowski and cinematographer Michel Daem show us in "EO" – and it is perhaps the most beautifully photographed film of the year – is not a denial of this brutality, but rather a answer to this one.

The screen opens to flooded red lights and a resounding passage from Paul Mikitin's orchestral score. In this opening moment, EO is part of a circus performance with a young performer, Cassandra (Sandra Drozymalska), who hugs him, pats his coat, and feeds him carrot cake. Cassandra becomes the love of her life when the man of her dreams and desires breaks up and sends her to the next house. But in addition to the basic compulsions to eat, rest, and walk, Skolimowski attributes the drive, or desire, to it. As the director suggests with frequent close-ups of Eo's big eyes – in an unmistakable and emotional way – there's a limit to what we can get into the donkey's inner life, or even what that we can suggest.

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Others, however, are more than happy to speak for him: “Can't you see the animal is in pain? A worker screams in protest that will shatter the circus and send Yu and his four performers running in all directions. The rest of this fast-paced, relentless 86-minute film (Skolimowski wrote it with his wife, Ewa Piaskowska) follows the donkey on its winding journey from Poland to Italy, across mountains and man-made bridges. . Past tunnels and wind turbines and into this haunted forest. At one point, in a brutal shot that seems almost supernatural, a troop of horses are shown galloping alongside Eo's car, their thrilling freedom making his imprisonment agonizingly easy.

Along the way, there are brief stops at a newly opened stable where Yo is gently (but terrified) enthralled by the majestic horses, and a grueling sporting event where he becomes the winning team's humbling mascot. From there, they are taken to a large facility where they are put to bed out of human pity rather than cared for. (Some of his neighbors aren't so lucky.) From there, he wanders off and finds himself in an Italian villa, where the Countess, played by Isabelle Huppert, breaks dishes and gazes seductively at a priest (Lorenzo Zurzolo) . Huppert, I think, has also become something of an icon of great European cinema, the central shadow of which lies in that great film and its preoccupations with the small and the animal (as opposed to the human and the superior).

That's not to say "EO," which won third place from the jury at this year's Cannes Film Festival, has gone unnoticed or unrecognized, though it could easily get lost in the few US theaters where it will screen. . It should be on the big screen. When I first saw "EO" in Cannes, it was somewhat dismissive of life, death and the extraordinary beauty of donkeys, like "Au Hasard Balthazar", the masterpiece by Robert Bresson from 1966. by man, and both are forced to become beasts of burden. , and both testify to all sorts of human horrors and absurdities.

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Skolimowski, for his part, recognizes "O. Hussard Balthazar" as an inspiration and a starting point. While the two films share clear sympathies for their respective heroes, the visual and pacing differences are less obvious. Bresson's elegant black-and-white compositions and subtle crossfades are a far cry from Agnieszka Glinska's precise editing, exuberant Dymek photography and vibrant colors, especially the raging strokes of red. (The audacity of the image says a lot for Skolimowski as a painter.) And while Bresson bends complex human drama into the context of “Balthazar,” the people of “Eyo” are interesting characters, but somewhat moving. Their troubles and sufferings – one cries, the other dies – concern us only insofar as they affect EO.

Io plays six donkeys – Hola, Taco, Marita, Ittore, Rocco and Mela – who are brought together through filming and editing into a character we know and love. The intimacy with the camera – the loving attention given to Yeo with a sometimes sad, sometimes excited gaze, raised ears, his soft gray fur and neat roots adorning his neck at one point – feels like a statement. This Love Skolimowski doesn't really try to convey an EO perspective, except for a few shots that suggest a donkey's view, with low angles to the ground and blurry edges. He's more interested in explaining what it's like to be in the presence of an EO, to get close enough to feel you can talk to him, smell his scent, and run your fingers through his fur.

In "EO", the camera doesn't just follow the story or record the action. Its restless, exploratory movements represent a kind of shared awareness, a sense of community between different members of the animal kingdom, working together in the field or sharing the same closed enclosure. The blessing of this film is the expansion of this community to those who pass before the camera whose fates are intertwined with EOs, whether they realize it or not. Finally, this connection extends to the public, especially those of us who go to the movies to shake, move, rock or gently recreate the feel of the universe. The world we share with the OE is cold and cruel, and that doesn't mean we have to be.

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