Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 09, 2022 7:05 pm 
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The picaresque tale of a donkey

Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski at 84 perhaps has nothing to prove except to himself, and has set himself the challenge of imagining the life of another creature, creating EO, a film, made as an homage to minimalist Robert Bresson's Au hazard Balthezar from the point of view of a donkey. Peter DeBruge reports in his Variety review of Eo that Skolimowski "reckons Bresson’s relatively austere classic was the only time he shed a tear in the cinema."

Not in charge of his own life, Eo in the film lives a passive picaresque tale. At first he is being worked in a circus act. His sweet and doting young trainer Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska) leads him through the tricks she's trained him to do. But authorities declare the use of animals in circuses abusive and take away the circus animals, effectively closing down the show. This is a little like child and family service agencies that take away children from their parents on the grounds of imagined cruelty and perpetrate a greater cruelty. From now on, Eo drifts from one place to another. Kasandra is very sad and searches for him, and at one points seems to find him to give him carrot pastry for his birthday as she did last year.

From a donkey "sanctuary" Eo is set loose, then captured by a council worker and made the mascot of a soccer team. But when the team wins, the opponents seem to blame Eo, and send hooligans to beat him. He is rescued again and restored to health, though he comes very close to being repurposed as meat for human consumption. Finally after a time with a wild ruffian into headbanger music (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), he wanders loose again and is found tied to a pole on a highway by Vito, a gorgeous young Italian with magnificent eyelashes who, of course, is a wayward priest and a gambling addict (Lorenzo Zurzolo) who's the son of a French countess played by Isabelle Huppert. What else?

It may show that EO did not win my admiration, unlike some, such as Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, who called it an "indelible heartbreaker" and put it at number one on her best movies of 2022 list. For me it seems presumptive for a filmmaker to presume to see things from the eyes of an animal. Skolimowski's use of very closeup images of Eo's head did not convince me that he's getting into that head. The choice of a donkey loads the dice. It builds on the species' humble look and history as a beast of burden, which may seem the more painful if we realize donkeys (and mules) are more intelligent than horses. It's inevitable that we will get to mankind's cruelty to animals, this time right away. The wanderings of Eo, though beautifully and sometimes experimentally filmed, seem a bit far-fetched. Though some reviewers think this film identifies more totally with the donkey than Bresson's, often the donkey seemed to me a mere excuse for changing scenes and characters.

There have been various documentaries showing human exploitation of animals, especially slaughtering them for meat, or used in a factory farm like, this year, Andrea Arnold's Cow, which also, more monotonously but more realistically, seeks to follow the "point of view" of an animal, actually used to provide milk (and offspring who're quickly taken from her so her milk can continued bo be used), and, when her time has come, put to death (really) with a bullet to the head. The doc, be it noted, actually follows Luna, one cow, whereas Eo makes use of six donkey's in its lead role, and they do not all look alike, if you are paying attention.

But what about the millions of humans who love their pets, their dogs, cats, canaries, turtles or lizards as it may be, and treat them with kindness? It's nice, and more convincing, to see a film made from the point of one of these people. A recent favorite of mine was Andrew Haigh's Lean on Pete, also a road movie, but focused on a fifteen-year-old boy (Charlie Plummer) who steals a horse he loves to save him from being sent to the glue factory because his racing days are over. Though the "Lassie" movies may be corny, so is making a donkey the protagonist of an art film. When Ryan Leston, in his Slash Film review of Eo said this film "is essentially a movie that's Forrest Gump if Forrest was a donkey," it struck a chord with me, a discordant, damning one.

EO, 85 mins., debuted in competition at Cannes May 2022 and has shown in 35 festivals or special series since, including the NYFF Main Slate. Its limited US theatrical release began Nov. 18, 2022. Watched at Landmark's Elmwood Theater Dec. 9, 2022. Metacritic rating: 83%.

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