Jerzy Skolimowski’s beautiful ode to donkeys.
If this donkey embarks on a journey where he meets good and bad people, then the new Polish drama “EO” is inspired by Robert Bresson’s 1966 French film “Au Hasard Balthazar,” which was also about a donkey taking crap from jackasses (pun intended).
After I watched “EO,” I went back to look at “Au Hasard Balthazar,” and it wasn’t just about this donkey; it was also about a kind girl named Marie, who shares the same feeling for him. The story, regarding the love and hatred, had a gang-leader tying a newspaper with some fire to Balthazar the donkey’s tail to make it go, while Marie is manipulated into an abusive relationship with him. When Balthazar goes to the circus, he’s able to figure out a multiplication problem by stomping on his hoofs.
“Give me a 3-digit number”
Now a 1 digit number”
And the donkey answers: “2,502.”
“EO” has less dialogue and shows us more of how the main donkey sees things. It’s about ten minutes shorter than that French masterpiece, and while that was in black and white, this one is shot in color, but both these films still share their ode to donkeys, and represent both good and bad sides to society.
This donkey, named EO, starts off as a circus animal (like Balthazar for a short while) with his kind trainer Kassandra (Sandra Drzymalska), until the circus has to let him go, because of a new law, and travels throughout the Polish and Italian countryside. He’s able to escape from various locations, with or without anyone’s help, and some of them are lively and original.
Half the people he meets feed him or befriend him, others would kill foxes and shock animals in front of his eyes. Other characters like an Italian priest (Lorenzo Zurzolo) and a Countess (guest star Isabelle Huppert) just come and go. At one point in the film, he inadvertently causes a soccer team to lose, and their fans beat him out of anger. And yet, he’s still walking along, because he’s had some help from the good people.
He’ll keep on walking, especially since Kassandra on his mind. She’s given less of a role than Marie did, although she does appear in flashing red scenes in the donkey’s memory. Drzymalska does show off her dispositions quite well, but she deserves to share the same screen time as EO.
Director Jerzy Skolimowski captures the beauty and humanity in this animal, who witnesses various things along the way. Movies like “Au Hasard Balthazar,” “The Bear,” “War Horse,” “Stray,” “Cow,” or any version of “Black Beauty” make their animals the main protagonists of their stories, because they all have feelings, and they’re baffled by the world around them. We don’t always need narration to tell us who this donkey is and what he’s thinking about. It would be a miracle if we can truly understand what they’re thinking or saying underneath their mooing, braying, or growling. But we can, at least, acknowledge his feelings through his eyes, as we did for Balthazar.
“EO” doesn’t top “Au Hasard Balthazar,” but it does have a soul inside that makes us care about this donkey. The people who mistreat him are the real Jackasses, not EO, and yet, he doesn’t turn his back on everyone.
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