Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO is a movie about a donkey, but don’t mistake it for a kids movie. The titular donkey doesn’t talk nor sing for your amusement. He’s not anthropomorphized and he isn’t voiced by Shawn Mendes, Rob Schneider, or another notable celebrity. He’s simply, EO, who begins this story as a donkey working at a Polish circus, and from there, segues from land-to-land, location-to-location. Some experiences are happy. Some are downright cruel. Thus is the life of a wayward ass.
A nominee of the Palme d’Or at Cannes — where it also picked up the Jury Prize and the soundtrack award — EO follows this donkey intimately. Most of the (very little) dialog we get doesn’t have to directly do with EO nor animals in general. Skolimowski’s film takes heavy inspiration for Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar from 1966, another film that followed a donkey and the callous treatment he received from his several owners.
EO himself is gray in color, and has some white freckles on his fur. There’s no telling his age nor his origins, other than the fact that he was one of the four-legged stars of an animal circus before Polish animal rights activists outlawed such practice and left him to fend for himself. Arguably the most affectionate person in his life is Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska), his trainer, who treated him with kindness until he was stripped away from his duties. A heartfelt scene comes when Kasandra begs her boyfriend to take his moped out to the countryside to visit EO on his birthday. She handfeeds him a carrot muffin and enjoys a blissful moment with the gentle creature. Kindness, as EO more or less learns, does exist in this big, big world, but only in fleeting instances such as this one.
After activists and bankruptcy attorneys put the kibosh on the show, EO is left to his own devices. Over the course of the film, he wanders through pastures, cold and unmoving under overcast skies. Screenwriters Skolimowski and Ewa Piaskowska don’t subscribe a motivation nor intent to EO’s journey. They don’t assign him a motive nor underscore his internalized thoughts with subtitles. He’s an animal, after all, acting on his own id and intuitions. At one point, his four legs take him to a soccer game, where the winning team embraces him before the losing team can get to him. He’s later shuffled into the back of a truck with other animals; the truck driven by a very horny and desperate Polish man simply looking for some rest-stop companionship. It all leads to a field of cows, where, well… you know.
EO is at its best when it fully embraces its stream-of-consciousness narrative and lets us observe the donkey as he is. EO’s perspective is shown through the occasional burst of black and red visuals, which can be haunting but are also very artful. I longed for more of them, personally.
Be it wandering through pastures or observing fish inside an aquarium, EO is always a compelling figure because his journey is a complete mystery to the viewer. There are times when Skolimowski breaks from narrative logic. There’s a brief shot of a robotic dog scrounging through grass, and I cannot begin to make sense of it. Other scenes ditch the oft-employed vérité style of filmmaking in favor of slicker shots that press pause on the rugged authenticity this film tries to convey. In the end, EO is quietly moving; a stark reminder of the horrid lives many animals lead, namely those who aren’t brought into our homes, pampered, and given unconditional love.
NOTE: EO is now available to rent on a variety of VOD platforms.
Starring: Ettore, Hola, Marietta, Mela, Rocco, and Tako (all playing EO at various points), Sandra Drzymalska, Lorenz Zurzolo, Mateusz Kościukiewicz, and Isabelle Huppert. Directed by: Jerzy Skolimowski.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!