EO ★★★

There is no obvious thread connecting Jerzy Skolimowski’s work. His Deep End remains a powerful, transgressive expose of toxic masculinity and how it takes hold at a young age. The Shout is a surreal nightmare that takes advantage of the advances in sound in movies. So a take on Au Hasard Balthazar could be, depending on your viewpoint, either the most surprising detour in his long career or the least. 


Like the Robert Bresson film, Eo follows a donkey who, through circumstances mostly beyond his control, finds himself under the aegis of myriad owners, some kind, some cruel. He starts off at a circus, which we see almost immediately shut down by animal rights protestors. A young woman (Sandra Drzymalska) is the first significant individual to show kindness towards Eo, but she can do little to make sure that he is under her protection. Eo’s escape from a farm he ends up in, presumably to search for the kind young woman, kicks off a harrowing trek that is quite common in the somewhat questionable genre of animal-centered pictures (think The Incredible Journey). One could be forgiven for thinking this is a film for children until some decidedly violent elements come into play. 

Eo’s journey is an opportunity for Skolimowski to showcase different aspects of humanity and, somewhat unexpectedly, different forms of storytelling. Comparisons to Au Hasard Balthasar are inevitable, but it is interesting to see how in Balthasar, Bresson wanted to show human beings at their least restricted and how Balthasar himself is a symbol of Christian perseverance in the face of extreme hardship. In Eo, Skolimowski isn’t overly concerned with the allegorical or potentially moralistic. Rather, he is interested in experimenting with different tones and narratives to give a rich portrait of humanity. Eo’s run-in with a bunch of small town football hooligans is both a funny yet distressing vignette about the boredom of provincial life. At one point, Eo ends up at the house of a wealthy woman where a soap opera plays out replete with forbidden romance and religion. He is not even opposed to throwing in elements of the surreal such as a shot from the point of view of a robot with night vision for no obvious reason.

Skolimowski’s mastery of storytelling is never in question. He can tell richer stories than directors who use twice the dialogue that he does simply through skillful blocking and compositions. His ability to master different tones is unsurprising, considering his other work, but is even more impressive considering how disparate the stories he chooses to tell are. Like many movies that do not follow a constant narrative thread, however, Eo contains stories of uneven quality, and while the overall creation is still compelling, engagement can definitely vary depending on how much a story may resonate with you. Eo, the one constant thread, is the key to the film. It is clear that Skolimowski has great affection for Eo. Even though he doesn’t necessarily anthropomorphize the donkey, he still chooses to give him heroic moments such as kicking an especially oppressive master. Perhaps no one can judge anyone based solely on how they treat animals, but Eo’s presence and how he is treated often runs parallel to the story that is being told. And people’s treatment of him can bring out unexpected aspects of personality. Humans may be a complex mess, but Eo is refreshingly simple and comforting in his consistency.

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