Review: Move Over, Shrek: The Donkey EO drama is an amazing piece of cinematic brilliance

EO centers on the titular donkey, who is taken from the owner of his circus performer by a group of animal activists.Courtesy of VKPR

  • EO
  • Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski
  • Written by Jerzy Skolimowski and Ewa Piaskowska
  • Hero Sandra Drzymalska and six different donkeys
  • Classification N/A; 86 minutes
  • Opens in select theaters November 25

Critic’s Choice


The late Jean-Luc Godard said so Random Balthazar, Robert Bresson’s 1966 film about a donkey and the dramas of its various owners, “is the world in an hour and a half.” More than fifty years later, Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski is inspired by Bresson’s film to make his story centered around a donkey, although his version is much more different and eccentric in intention and execution. With the splendid, the crazy and the dizzying EOSkolimowski does not want his film to contain the world, but to experience it through the eyes of his non-human protagonist.

The film, which won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, begins with the first of several hallucinatory sequences, in which red strobe lights show glimpses of the title character (played by six different donkeys) lying on the ground before for a young woman to breathe life back into him. This turns out to be a circus show that EO does with performer Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska), until the establishment runs out of money and the animals are taken back. EO is taken away by Kasandra and begins his odyssey, first switching from one owner to another before escaping on his own, where he meets a variety of people who want to help or harm him.

Given that EOThe central character of Can’t Speak and Has Little Agency, Skolimowski and co-writer Ewa Piaskowska maintain a bare-bones, episodic narrative structure, which means a heavy emphasis on showing rather than telling.

EO serves as a witness to the many adventures life has to bring.Courtesy of VKPR

And as for experiences, EO it’s a jaw-dropping piece of bravura cinema. Cinematographer Michal Dymek takes an all-out approach to the camera, switching styles instantly, whether filming from the perspective of a scrap crane moving scrap metal, flying drones through forests and wind turbines, or simply admire beautiful landscapes in Poland and Italy. It’s impossible to guess where things will head any second, which may seem daunting, but in the safe hands of Skolimowski and his crew, EO it is downright exhilarating.

Don’t think the film is all style or that there is no method to the righteous madness on display. This is an animal rights film and taking EOFrom the point of view of , it forces viewers to distinguish between animals as they are and how we project onto them.

At one point, when EO stumbles upon a small-town soccer game, the winning team adopts him as their mascot, parading him around town before throwing a party. The whole ordeal isn’t EO’s thing, so he walks away from the festivities, only to be met with fans of the losing team taking their anger out on him. It’s a short sequence, but after spending so much time with EO, the effect of seeing him at the mercy of others who place him in arbitrary roles of hero and villain is jarring. It also proves the film’s point that this donkey, like all animals, is its own being, and equally individual to those who exert control over it.

In the safe hands of director Jerzy Skolimowski and his crew, EO is downright exhilarating.Aneta Filip Gębscy/Courtesy of Films We Like

Heartbreaking how EO can go into showing the hard life animals have in an industrialized world, it’s anything but a somber moment in cinema. Skolimowski’s crazed direction makes it easy to get swept up in every left turn and detour in his film, where so much is happening that a late cameo from an art house acting legend can easily be overlooked. In his relentless quest to disorient the audience and free them from narrative conventions, EO it forces us to see the world differently, and thus helps us see it from a perspective outside our own.

Special for The Globe and Mail

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