Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Writer: Ewa Piaskowska, Jerzy Skolimowski
Cast: Sandra Drzymalska, Lorenzo Zurzolo, Isabelle Huppert
Screened at: Raleigh Studios, LA, 11/18/22
Opens: November 18th, 2022
Having a human protagonist makes it easy to carry a film, since the main character is, typically, able to speak and communicate with the people around them. Focusing on an animal not given that power through magical realism or some other device can be more challenging, since either their perspective must be engaging enough or those who are able to share their feelings must do the talking and framing of each scene. Poland’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature, EO, follows a donkey on a journey through Europe that manages to be surprisingly interesting if not as entirely riveting as many have found it to be.
EO begins his journey as a circus performer, where he enjoys a warm relationship with his human handler, but takes abuse from her manager. When animal rights protestors intervene, EO is taken from place to place, encountering other animals and numerous people who are alternately caring and affectionate and vicious and cruel. At times, the camera presents EO’s point of view, while at others it launches into imagined moments that represent either a vivid dream of EO’s or a potential situation he might have found himself in if the right circumstances had presented themselves.
Some might compare EO to another film with an animal in its title who serves to weave together the film’s narrative, War Horse. While that was a big-budget, large-scale production that showed just how much its titular horse went through over the course of his life, this is a much more accessible, intimate adventure. EO exhibits little control over what happens to him, yet there are moments in which he does seem to be the one who is able to shape his fate, if only exhibiting minimal enthusiasm for the nearest human and refusing to do what is expected of him.
It’s the simpler, quieter moments of EO that feel most effective, like when he is bothered by no one and begins snacking on the carrots attached to a rope around his neck. Not every person who meets EO takes the time to process who he is and to think that maybe he too might have a life story, and he returns the favor by not paying attention to everyone equally. Those who treat him well do earn a place in his heart, but he doesn’t always want to operate on their schedules, and he has little say in what happens to him except in the moment when he can choose how to react.
Director and co-writer Jerzy Skolimowski has achieved something creative and effective here, though just how enthralling it is will depend on the patience level of the individual viewer. In all, not that much happens over the course of its 86 minutes, yet its ability to retain interest without a good deal of conversation, and certainly not much directed at its protagonist, is impressive. That’s due in part to its eagerness for those scenes that have little explanation but change the tone in an abrupt way that any wavering audience attention should be immediately returned.
There are a few actors with a substantial presence throughout the film, among them Oscar nominee Isabelle Huppert, who switches back and forth each line between French and Italian in one of the film’s final scenes. Yet the focus is really all about EO and the way in which he moves slowly throughout Europe. This film, if nothing else, manages to reframe scenes that would otherwise have him as a character in the background and maybe even out of the shot to give a new perspective on what it means to take in the world around you.
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B