★★★★★ - STUFF
- A little donkey goes a long way in a special, subjective, unrepeatable film -
We are in Poland, in the present day – or thereabouts.
At a travelling circus, parked outside a small town, a small and expressive donkey is dragooned into pulling a cart of scrap metal from the circus campsite to a dealer in town. The driver of the cart is a lank-haired, chain-smoking, grimy-suited bad'un straight out of central-casting. The donkey is clearly unimpressed.
On their return, a platoon of animal welfare inspectors are waiting to seize all the misbegotten animals and rehouse them. Into the waiting trucks go sundry camels, llamas – and one tiny donkey. We have learned by now the donkey's given name is Eo. And this film shall be his story.
Listen, it's not easy to adequately communicate just what a treat and a triumph Jerzy Skolimowski's EO truly is.
Over the next 80 or so minutes, we will follow Eo on his travels, as he leads us through a robustly dream-like and surreal slice of this Polish demi-monde. He will encounter ratbags and saints, and maybe realise, a few heart-breaking moments after we do, which was which.
Eo is specifically a Sardinian donkey. They are a miniature breed, known for their intelligence and apparent liking for human company. They are also possessed of a pair of enormous, dark and very beautiful eyes. Skolimowski lets his camera spend an inordinate amount of time gazing at those eyes, as Eo gazes back at us.
Skolimowski (Moonlighting, The Shout) is 84 now, with an illustrious career spanning six decades. He is uninterested in making any film that is not essential to him – and EO is clearly the realisation of a dream.
This is a very special, subjective and unrepeatable film. It is properly absurd, vaguely apocalyptic and a very European antithesis of whatever the Disney version of this story would be. I think that R13 rating was specifically imposed, not for any overt gore on screen, but just to make damn sure that no well-meaning parents take their toddlers to "the donkey film".
One of the foundational joys of EO is that no one here is trying to anthropomorphise their star. Eo remains an animal, with an animal’s responses and limited understanding of what is happening to it. But, as with the titular pig in Viktor Kossakovsky's Gunda, when the film-maker is talented enough to allow us to see, and not just "watch" their film, you'd be amazed at how much of an animal's internal life can become discernible, without artifice.
EO is a very special treat for anyone who really cares about how personal, idiosyncratic and unexpected a visit to the cinema can still be. Also, Isabelle Huppert turns up. No one saw that coming.
If you missed EO at the New Zealand International Film Festival, take the chance to see it now. And if you did see it back in July, you'll probably be queuing up to see EO again.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
EO is now playing at Light House Cinema!