From EO by veteran Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, we did not know what to expect in terms of genre or even narrative, with just a slightly enigmatic featuring a donkey on a bright red background. A tribute to Au Hasard Balthazar perhaps? The presence of Isabelle Huppert in the casting credit was also exciting.Yet it turns out that EO is indeed about a donkey, the beautiful, cruel and engaging story of a donkey trying to survive, simple but not just a bit surreal too and taking so many unexpected forms in its plot development and directing style. Freed from a circus and coming across a wide gallery of characters, going from kindness to violence and also meeting a few other unfortunate animals along the way, there is not an ounce of anthropomorphism.
EO is an observer and it is down to the audience to judge the humans he meets, with the director laying bare greed, vanity, violence just as the animals themselves are left in a world they do not understand. EO represents innocence as a creature incapable of violence but not represented with any kind of above normal intelligence and it makes his ploy and frequent mistreatments all the more affecting.
The story however only tells part of, well, the story when it comes to EO, as moving as it is. With the inventiveness and formal experimentation you would expect from a young man, Jerzy Skolimowski keeps surprising us throughout with the sort of imagery, sound assault and bright lighting that seems to be lifted straight from a Gaspar Noé film at times. Other times he reverts back to harshly realistic tone before shifting again, with a scene in which EO is fleeing through a dark forest at night a tribute to the Snow White nightmarish escape scene that is as impressive as it is daring.
Those fairy tales vibes come back when Isabelle Huppert makes her grand entrance, just for a cameo as it turns out although one that brings a totally unexpected and almost disorientating touch of humour, yet it works.
A beautiful, sad and experimental tale full of cruelty and humanism, Jerzy Skolimowski confounds all expectations with this unidentified filmic objet.
Review by Laurent de Alberti
Star rating: ★★★★★
Official Selection, In Competition
EO. 2022 Poland/Italy. Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski. Starring Isabelle Huppert...