At 84, Jerzy Skolimowski doesn’t have much left to prove; while he’s feted for idiosyncratic work like Deep End, this blog has attempted to pick up some of the Polish auteur’s less fancied entries in his canon; The Adventures of Gerard from 1970, 1982’s whimsical yet hard-edged Moonlighting. He’s an unlikely Oscar-nominee for 2023, yet there he is, up for best foreign film with EO, the story of a donkey and its adventures on earth. Don’t expect Shrek, Lassie, The Incredible Journey or any such childish sentiment; this is art-house cinema, and all the better for it.
In fact, we’ve specifically been here before with Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, which similarly restricts its scope to the viewpoint of a humble creature. But times have changed since 1966, and not for the better. EO starts his journey in a circus, where animal rights protesters understandably demand his freedom from the job of entertaining the patrons, This kindness turns cruel because it unfairly separates EO from his owner, and leaves him to walk the earth, with respite brief and homes less than forever. We live through each scene with EO, his airborne dreams, then the cruel beatings he endures which bring us crashing back down to earth. And still, we endure…
EO is a tricky film because while the subject has an obvious appeal to animal lovers, this is not a cute or cuddly film in any way. Those of us who love animals do not like to see, or even imagining bearing witness to, any form of unhappiness for the poor mites involved, so EO should be swiftly discounted for those seeking a Disney-fied view of nature. EO the movie is more about the relationship between people and animals, and the results are not encouraging; EO is seized upon, ignored, adored and abandoned according to human foibles, and we never forget that it’s a tough life out there for a donkey.
EO is a tough watch, even for fans of the director, but not because it fails to hit its target; in fact, EO nails exactly what it wants to say about man’s vanity and the stoic resilience of animals. But it’s also a film deserving of many awards nominations and wins; Skolimowski, like EO, has been around for long enough to treat triumph and disaster as all the same, and this equivocal, deeply symbolic film can safely be recommended to those who seek the philosophical balm of hard-won insight.
Sorry, I hope it wins but I can’t do cruelty to donkeys, or any other animals I’d be a right mess. A sad nope.
Understandable, hence the warnings…
Deep End was one of the first movies I saw in an arthouse – the old Cosmo in Glasgow. I’ve even managed Adventures of Gerard and I enjoyed The Shout but not caught many of his later films. Cocaine Bear sounds more my thing than EO.
He’s had quite a varied career, and it’s nice to see a late work like this in the context of his earlier films.
Very varied. Sometimes a gun for hire, other times works that clearly were more personal.
That’s a nice review you made for a film that deserves more than blink at its long eared animal. Excepting the last italian part with Huppert and the priest, I liked every step of this trip, particularly when the donkey is lost in the deep forest. I think it worth a look.
Funny you should mention that, that last part didn’t quite work for me either. Otherwise, it is a unique and constantly challenging film, but one it’ll be a struggle to get people to watch.
It could be our fight for donkey’s honour. 😉
Probably won’t see this. Had a donkey briefly. Very smart animals.
What did the donkey say about you?
He was indifferent.
Allowed in this instance.
I’m going to let Eddie Murphy be the only donkey I care about…
I put that Shrek reference in just for you…
tips hat *