EO – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director – Jerzy Skolimowski
Writers – Ewa Piaskowska, Jerzy Skolimowski
Stars – Sandra Drzymalska, Isabelle Huppert, Lorenzo Zurzolo
Seen more or less exclusively through the eyes of a donkey, EO is a modern-day morality tale. We are provided with a panoramic view of a world in which innocence is either lost or challenged. Along with oxen and other sturdy creatures, the donkey has long been regarded as a beast of burden. And the ‘little donkey’ in this particular narrative has indeed a heavy load, carrying it seems all the crimes and wearisome shortcomings of European society, or at least part of it. It is a bit like waiting on a bus and suddenly two come along at once. We already have the donkey ‘star’ in Jenny of the The Banshees of Inisherin and now we have another donkey star in this central European tale.
Here, the donkey carries an unwieldy plot, in so far as there is one. Through a series of mini narratives, implausible on the one hand and yet all too plausible, this particular beast crosses a good portion of Europe physically from a circus in Poland through to very luxurious grand villas in Italy. Unlikely as it seems, and could one animal possibly travel so far, it remains compelling as the overall trajectory is punctuated by the short, self-contained stories, or more correctly insights, introducing the viewer to the lives of those encountered along the way. This is no Lassie Come Home (1943), the journey and its challenges do not present the animal as hero. We are not watching the animal on his heroic journey overcoming obstacles. Instead, the donkey is watching us. The viewer throughout is the actual donkey and through imaginative camera work we find ourselves seeing the world and its madness through his eyes (it is a he seemingly, called ‘Tako’ in real life). His view is one of silent suffering in which he has no power to intervene. He sees the cruelty to his fellow animals. He witnesses the abusive behaviour of football hooligans and is himself a victim of their abuse. He sees brutality, sexual misadventure and folly, but does not and cannot intervene, he is the silent witness.
Significantly the director is Polish and the journey, as mentioned is from Poland through to Italy. It is therefore a specifically Roman Catholic road map. Tako the donkey, and indeed the six or so donkey co-stars who filled in at various points, all share the large sorrowful eyes of the once ubiquitous Sacred Heart oleographs that adorned devout households for generations. Like those images these large hurt-filled eyes are not particularly judgemental but nonetheless see every move, fault and failing, without saying anything or indeed intervening. The donkey’s present day perspective is as old as time itself. It is a sobering, but nonetheless rewarding tale.
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