starring Sandra Drzymalska, Lorenzo Zurzolo, Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Isabelle Huppert
written by Ewa Piaskowska, Jerzy Skolimowski
directed by Jerzy Skolimowski
by Angelo Muredda A donkey meets the dregs of human civilization and comes out worse for wear in Jerzy Skolimowski's EO, a sometimes whimsical but ultimately gnarly animal-rights fable that earns its righteous closing exhortation against the factory-farming industry and anyone who tacitly endorses it by eating meat. Though thematically indebted to animal odysseys as disparate as Au Hasard Balthazar, The Incredible Journey, and War Horse, EO is at once more formally adventurous in its endlessly roving camera and psychedelic set-pieces and more dispiriting than even the Bressonian incarnation of this subgenre, ultimately coming off like a noble beast's ground-level vision of the horrors of Come and See.
Skolimowski entreats us to go where the blissfully silent eponymous beast goes using lightweight digital cameras that capture the strange and often brutal behaviour of the people he comes across, viewed through his untranslated perspective with a clinical, even anthropological distance. Played by six different donkeys at different points, EO the protagonist is pure and inscrutable in each of his physical forms, his journey presented without comment until that closing text, which forces us to linger on his soulful eyes whenever they're offered up in close-up. Lending to the infernal feel of his misadventures is the fact that most of EO's travels are nocturnal, as he ambles at dusk and beyond from a mobile circus--where he's genuinely loved by his trainer and performing partner (Sandra Drzymalska), if exploited by the work itself--to various forms of capture and release from parties that are a mix of violent, amiable, and disinterested, to a country estate where he's effectively a sounding board for the psychodrama of a countess (Isabelle Huppert). If Skolimowski's final message is didactic and unsubtle, the film that precedes it makes a good enough rhetorical case for the necessity of being unsubtle when life, animal or otherwise, is at stake--forcing us to look squarely at the consequences of intellectually separating individual animals from the abstract burgers and steaks they yield. Programme: Contemporary World Cinema