Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO is a haunting, tear-jerking epic about the futility and cruelty of modern life. The octogenarian director demonstrates how easily mundane existence can slip into either anguish or cheerfulness as we follow the title character through a tumultuous odyssey across the Polish countryside. And, yes, Eo is a donkey. But do not mistake EO for a fairytale, because Skolimowski abandons the fantastical depictions of animals in favor of a harsher reality that is, at the bottom line, undeniably authentic. Instead, EO reimagines the brutal absoluteness of Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar.
Skolimowski’s first film in seven years delivers a visionary commentary on the anxieties of permanence, memory, and hopelessness in modern life. But instead of a typically human, easily accessible narrative, Skolimowski chooses an unassuming, gentle, and watchful donkey to experience the multifaceted spectrum of life, adorning Eo with more personality than any Disney special. Eo stumbles into a tense soccer game, escapes from hunters, and even attends a party. In short, Eo lives a dynamic, exciting life before he faces an unsettlingly familiar fate. But most of all, Eo is innocent.
EO is a tender film, filled with close-ups of our melancholic donkey, boiling over with emotion that might solely come from the audience. There is a depth to Eo’s eyes, but more than anything, there is room for projection. Eo is a donkey caught in a tumultuous sequence of violence, celebration, and regularity; most importantly, he is an animal Skolimowski compels us to see. And often, Skolimowski pans away as the story is consumed by these peripheral human vignettes. Suddenly, we wonder, where is our donkey? Eo’s innocence is irreducible and his story is honest. Skolimowski illustrates the inexplicable life of a donkey, a life frequently ignored, but in his courageous endeavor, his inventive and engrossing film strikes an emotional core and pulls viewers into Eo’s observant eyes. 86 min.