IO Review

Penoos Aras
  • 4.5/5

It's very difficult to make a live action drama with a donkey for a protagonist and not have your film compared to Au Hasard Balthazar. Indeed, the words "donkey" and "cinema" cannot be used in the same sentence without one (a cineaste, anyway) thinking "Bresson". Inevitable, then, that EO, Jerzy Skolimowski's new donkey epic, would be considered in relation to the classic French film. The truth, though, is that they are completely different works that show just how different two European dramas about donkeys can be.

One of the many great things about Bresson's film is that it uses the titular critter's non-humanness as such. All we know of Balthazar's existence is what the performer-donkey is able to express on its own. We can tell that they are hungry because we see them eating. We can tell that they are in pain when they cry out, or that they are tired when they lie down. This, Bresson is telling us, is all we need to know. One might say that Bresson, especially in his latter films, treated his human performers in much the same way. They use speech because these are sounds humans make. But we can't, the filmmakers will not, psychologize any of the living beings on screen. They all live and that is enough.

EO is a vastly different, um, animal. It's also a much more conventional one. This donkey is very psychologized. While it doesn't speak, it feels almost like a talking animal out of a Disney movie. We know by way of editing that Eo longs for certain things, has certain cherished memories, even experiences awe. Then again, there's nothing inherently wrong with anthropomorphizing animals for the sake of art. EO might be closer to Bambi than to Balthazar, but does not Bambi have its own kind of power?

EO, unlike the classic French film, is a road movie. In a way it's as much about the places and people that Eo encounters as it is about the donkey. This is a portrait of a contemporary Europe that Skolimowski clearly finds absurd. The tone of the movie reminded me of the irreverence of the Czech New Wave more than anything I've seen from Polish cinema.

This Europe might seem absurd but it looks pretty great in Michal Dymek's mostly impressive, occasionally overwrought cinematography. The film would be unthinkable without Pawel Mykietyn's score. There is, predictably, not much dialog, and the music here is as important as is the accompaniment to a silent film. But the musicality of the work is another way it completely distinguishes itself from Bresson's movie, which revels in silence. We need the music to tell us what Eo is feeling, and thus what we should feel as well.

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