Review by Sean Boelman
Films made by octogenarians tend to be pretty conventional and comfortable to what they have done in the past, but Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski manages to bring plenty of great ideas to the table with his newest film, EO. A rousing film with an unexpected hero, EO works despite the odds saying it shouldn’t.
The film follows a donkey who drifts through the world, from owner to owner, as he experiences all of the joys and horrors that humanity has to offer. The film wears its influence from Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar on its sleeve, but Skolimowski does such a phenomenal job of modernizing this arc that the film works nonetheless.
This is perhaps one of the most powerful and impactful environmentalist fables that has been made in recent memory. Thankfully, the film refrains from showing the worst of the animal cruelty with some creative techniques, but it still isn’t subtle about this being the reality of atrocities committed against animals in the world every day.
Like so many films with animal protagonists, this film lives or dies by its characterization. On one hand, the cuteness factor gives it some immediate audience appeal, but it’s also hard to get the same level of emotion out of the animal. However, thanks to some phenomenal animal training and Skolimowski’s direction, EO emotes quite brilliantly.
There is also a cast of human characters, some of whom are played by recognizable names like Isabelle Huppert and Sandra Drzymalska. While many of these actors have some funny moments of their own, this is firmly a showcase for the animals that play the eponymous donkey, and Skolimowski makes sure the audience knows that.
One of the most impressive things that Skolimowski is able to do is find a tone that balances the lighthearted moments with the more somber ones. Although this film is primarily about the bleak reality of animal cruelty, it also finds the time to be a celebration of the joy that animals can bring to the world (and vice versa) if we treat them properly.
The film is also quite an achievement from a technical standpoint. As a whole, the film is exquisitely shot, but there is one sequence in particular — and you will know which it is when you see it — that is absolutely mind-blowing. It’s not quite an experimental film, but Skolimowski plays with form in unique ways.
EO is a film that you absolutely will not want to miss. It’s a refreshing spin on a classic, told in a way that is not only compelling, but also surprisingly entertaining. Even at 84 years old, Jerzy Skolimowski has delivered one of the year’s finest films.
EO screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 8-18.