A stunning art-house European donkey show
I’m a sucker for a donkey show.
Not that kind of donkey show.
EO, directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, an 84-year-old pillar of the Polish New Wave, is the kind of show that casts a spell, with a lovely, somewhat unknowable little burro in the title role.
It’s the kind of donkey show that steers clear of anthropomorphism and smart assery. (“Now I’m a flyin’, talkin’ donkey! You might seen a housefly. Maybe even a superfly. But I bet you ain’t never seen a donkey fly!”)
I’m talking the European art-house kind of donkey show–a hero’s journey whose various stops unschooled American viewers such as myself are probably ill-equipped to comprehend 100 percent of the time.
No matter. One needn’t be sure of one’s footing at every step to appreciate this film with its wild range of experiences and poignant images.
EO, separated by circumstance from the loving trainer / beautiful co-star who’s every donkey’s circus dream girl, finds himself trotting through a variety of mystifying situations, none of which last too long.
He’s wreathed in carrots for the grand opening of a provincial horse stable.
Members of a hard-partying football league adopt him.
He witnesses a murder.
He crosses the Alps into Italy, cropping the well-manicured lawn of an estate where Isabelle Huppert wastes no time seducing the young priest who’s also her–SPOILER–stepson.
Pity the parents who mistake EO for a children’s film!
Yes, the six sweet donkeys who play the suffering but stoic EO–his name is Polish for “Hee Haw”–are adorable.
Yes, there are plenty of character-based laughs, but director Skolimowski, taking inspiration from Robert Bresson’s , did not set out to create a mild-mannered picaresque.
EO is as blank a slate as With his big innocent eyes, expressive ears, and quick little donkey legs, of course we are rooting for him.
In , Skolimowski said that Bresson taught him that “the fate of the animal character can move the audience even stronger than any performance by the greatest actor.” As a domesticated animal, EO’s agency is limited, even when he’s on the run, with everyone in the audience rooting for a happy ending.
Again, not a children’s film. Nature can be cruel, but it’s not to blame should EO’s life turns out to be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.