May all your dreams come true.
Since it’s an homage to Au hasard Balthazar, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find myself just as unenthused by Jerzy Skolimowski‘s EO as I was to Robert Bresson‘s cinematic touchstone. That’s not to say their comparisons and contrasts exist on a one-to-one basis, however. They’re actually very different films altogether. But for every improvement (letting the titular donkey be the lead character rather than merely a voyeur destined to return to his darling Marie) comes the realization that even less is being said. Because while a metaphor for Christianity has been replaced by an overt declaration that “meat is murder,” the vignettes teaching this lesson are so disjointed and abruptly concluded that it’s difficult to really care beyond their cumulative ability to push EO’s adventure forward.
We meet him at bliss with his circus partner Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska) just before the government’s mandate against “animal cruelty” confiscates all non-human performers. Both are devastated. Both have lost their best friend—their world. Yet Kasandra can move on. She can get on her boyfriend’s motorcycle and drive off to a new life with nothing but sadness from the memory of what would inevitably haunt her dreams. EO is conversely forced from one form of incarceration to the next as though the latter is somehow more “humane” than the former. And maybe if the new work he’s meant to perform was as the star of a petting zoo, it would be exactly that. But it’s not. It’s hard labor sans Kasandra’s love. Fear and anxiety take hold.
EO therefore escapes to find his friend. But despite briefly reuniting, he simply cannot keep pace. So, he journeys to a soccer pitch. Onto a tractor trailer full of horses. And even the estate of a countess (Isabelle Huppert). He’s taken. Beaten. Saved and championed. He’s our guide through Poland and a sort of arbiter of justice when called upon to act in the best interests of those without a voice (as if he has one). Skolimowski and co-writer Ewa Piaskowska are thus utilizing magical realism as much as they are the emotional impact of the unaltered kindness of this donkey’s eyes. They’re leading him through the corridors of a life outside his control much like a slaughterhouse butcher would. It looks like freedom, but it’s an illusion.
Is that the lesson? Maybe. It doesn’t matter if Vito (Lorenzo Zurzolo) saves him from the side of the road if he cannot subsequently provide him a home that won’t lead him to his death anyway. Vito even admits he’s eaten salami made from donkey meat before (the second reference to the cured sausage in the film), so saving EO doesn’t necessarily mean much insofar as small-scale karmic actions. Neither does the donkey kicking a man killing small creatures for their pelts in the head. Nor does a disgruntled soccer team beating EO with bats because he dared make a sound when one of them was about to score a penalty shot. Everything is random. Everything occurs under the belief it possesses immeasurable profundity. And perhaps it does.
Sadly, like Balthazar, EO just wasn’t for me. The craft is laudable with exquisite full frame cinematography and some beautiful red strobes sprinkled throughout—not to mention the group of donkeys playing our lead with an adorably anthropomorphized sense of posture solely created by composition. There are some really funny bits, a couple undeniable shocks (mostly by way of violence), and just enough sweetness to endear myself to EO even if I could still just walk away with a shrug when the screen goes black. Because while the whole is enjoyable, it’s also fleeting. Characters come and go as EO keeps roaming. He doesn’t care about them afterwards (beyond Kasandra) and I honestly don’t really care about him. I’m glad to have experienced the journey, but that’s it.
courtesy of Janus Films