EO, Jerzy Skolimowski’s latest film, nominated for this year’s Oscars in the international film category, had its premiere in the Netherlands on 2nd March. The onomatopoeic title rightly suggests that the protagonist of the film is a donkey. Giving the leading part to an animal is not a new idea and fits perfectly into the literature tradition. Such solution can be found in writings by Aesop, Apuleius and La Fontaine, who were particularly keen to endow donkeys with human qualities.
Similarly, in Skolimowski’s oeuvre, the story of the donkey EO is a metaphor of human fate, with its tragedy and inevitability. But there is more.
EO is a road story in which the title character, having regained his freedom after years of a circus career, makes an independent journey from Poland to Italy. During the journey, he encounters people and animals, experiencing both tenderness and cruelty. Showing the sensitivity with which EO perceives reality is a successful attempt to cross emotional boundaries between species. Animals’ feelings turn out to be similar to ours – fear, joy, longing, love, anger. Humans, however, have more ways of expressing them. EO simply accepts them and cannot address, comment, or judge them in any way, so he seems to be endowed with stoic calm.
The emotional affinity between humans and animals is not the only message of the film. The story of EO’s journey provides an opportunity to assess the moral condition of the modern world and it is not, as one might guess, a positive one. The fate of animals is often tragic and filled with suffering, both physical and emotional. The donkey perspective adopted from the very beginning of the story exposes the absurdities of the human world, its hypocrisy and pettiness.
The film openly provokes the question: what does a donkey feel? The filmmakers use imagery full of saturated colours, memorable close-ups, and painterly landscapes. The combination of dreamy surrealism and brutal realism fits perfectly with the convention of the story, which is not just a chronological sequence of events, but rather a collection of impressions. It is due to its visual qualities that prompts critics’ recommendation for the film to be viewed on a large screen, which gives the opportunity to fully experience the story.
EO has many qualities of a moral treatise and, if only for this reason, is a much-needed call. The Oscar nomination provides it with the publicity, very needed to bring the film to a wider audience. It has already been recognised by the jury of the Cannes Film Festival, which nominated it for the Best Foreign Language Film award, other awards were granted by the New York Film Critics Association, the American Society of Film Critics, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. American audiences credited EO with its attendance success in the USA. Now it is time for Europe!
Jerzy Skolimowski (1938) writes scripts and directs but began his film career as an actor. He studied at the famous Łódź Film School, the same one where Roman Polański and Andrzej Wajda mastered their film making skills. He is known to international audiences for DEEP END (1970), THE SHOUT (1978) or ESSENTIAL KILLING (2010).