Directed and co-written by Jerzy Skolimowski, EO is not exactly a remake, but it has the same premise of Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar—although it does the story in a very different way. Bresson is one of my favorite directors, but I actually prefer EO. Skolimowski is a great Polish director who’s been around since the 1960s, as well as an actor in films like The Avengers and David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. He went to school, as did Miloš Forman and Ivan Passer, and was later involved with the Polish Film School as well. Skolimowski co-wrote Roman Polanski’s debut feature, Knife in the Water, but today he is best known for the excellent film Deep End. His film The Shout is also very good. He is still very active, and Jeremey Thomas has always been one of his big supporters.
If you know Bresson’s film, you will recognize elements of it, and you’ll know where this film is headed. EO is a donkey who works for a Polish circus. He is taken away after some animal rights activists shut the circus down. The film follows along as he is passed along from person to person, starting with the farm where he is first taken. It’s an exploration of the donkey’s life, and how humanity treats him—from well to horribly.
It’s all told from the donkeys perspective, which is one of the things that divides it from Au Hazard Balthazar. It’s a real audiovisual experience, with an amazing score by composer Paweł Mykietyn. Mykietyn has worked on several other films with Skolimowski. His work here blends electronic and more traditional film music.
Running at 88 minutes, it’s a strong piece of work that comes in at about the length that you can handle the material for. Isabelle Huppert pops up as one of the humans involved, which probably helped with getting the financing, and of course she’s great. It has an episodic narrative, and for someone who’s in his early 80s to make one of his best films yet is impressive, and contradicts the view that filmmakers make worse movies as they get older—clearly, not everyone follows the downward trajectory of Hitchcock or Fellini. It’s important that there is an infrastructure to support European auteurs in their later careers. I thought his last film, 11 Minutes, was dreadful, but this one is great. It’s a film that despite having some cynicism, has a huge heart.
It’s a beautiful movie about the lives of animals, that is in the end somewhat disturbing as far as human behaviour goes. In other words, you should see it.
Extras include a 2022 interview with Skolimowski and Ewa Piaskowska at the Lincoln Center; an audio commentary by Michael Brooke, Skolimowski A to Z, that plays over the film; British children’s film High Rise Donkey; a 1910 short, The Clown and His Donkey; and the trailer plus three teasers.