Posts Tagged ‘donkey’

“EO”: Beast of burden

“EO” My rating: B (In theaters)

89 minutes | No MPAA rating

What you get out of the donkey-centric “Eo,” I suspect, depends upon what you bring to it.

The latest from veteran Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski (“Moonlighting,” “The Lightship”) is an acknowledged nod to Robert Bresson’s 1966 “Au Hazard Balthasar”…both follow a donkey as the animal encounters a diverse variety of human beings whose behavior runs the gamut from loving to indifferent to cruel.

Neither film attempts to Disney-fy its subject. Both Balthazar and Eo are animals, pure and simple. They don’t do cute things, they are not ascribed the same emotions as people. Stare into their eyes and find what you can there.

This neutrality makes the movies challenging, for the filmmakers don’t tell us what we’re supposed to be feeling at any given moment. Rather we observe and, ultimately, impose on the donkey our own sensibilities. It’s not so much about the animal as our reactions to it and its plight.

“Eo” begins in a traveling circus where under a fierce red light Eo goes through his repertoire of simple tricks with his trainer Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska). This young woman is clearly devoted to the animal, showering it (is it a he or a she? I don’t know…) with affection and kisses.

But in short order things go south. The circus goes bankrupt at the same time it’s assailed by animal rights activists. Eo and the other four-footed performers are shipped off.

Over the film’s 90 minutes we’ll follow Eo through a series of misadventures. He/she ends up in a high-end horse breeding stable, pulling a cart loaded with feed and other necessities. Eo spends time at a farm that serves as a sort of petting zoo for special needs children.

Sandra Drzymalska, Eo

These interludes are presented as neither good nor bad. Is requiring an animal to haul our stuff or be ridden a form of exploitation? Is it cruel? You decide.

It could always be worse, as we’ll soon learn. Wandering off the farm Eo stumbles across a village whose soccer-crazy residents adopt him as their club mascot. Even the minimum pampering he receives from the beery celebrants has a downside; when the skinhead hooligan fans of a vanquished team show up to break heads, they decide to beat poor Eo as well.

Eventually Eo finds himself the companion of a young man (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz) who takes the donkey home to meet his rich mother (played by none other than the great Isabelle Huppert). Seems like a pretty nifty place to wind up, but Eo’s sense of wanderlust kicks in yet again, and he’s off.

Periodically the film reverts to crimson-soaked flashbacks to Eo’s days with Kasandra. This is as close as “Eo” comes to suggesting that the animal has an inner life, memories, yearnings.

We never really get to know the human characters, most of whom are treated with the same neutrality as Eo. Some have a mean streak, some are jerks, most are just schlepping through life.

In truth, “Eo’s” neutrality will strike many as its own form of indifference. Happily the film is a technical tour de force, with sumptuous photography by Michal Dymek and a powerful orchestral score from Pawel Mykietyn that imparts an eye- and ear-catching grandeur to the proceedings.

There’s a good deal of Christian symbolism percolating throughout “Eo,” though one needn’t glom onto it to appreciate the film.

I suspect a certain variety of animal lover — the folk who can handle humans killing each other but blanch when someone shoots a dog — will find in Eo’s story a heart-tugging tragedy.

Others — present company included — will see here a pretty standard-issue life: work, food, sleep, a few moments of pleasure and hopefully fewer of pain, all leading up to that big abattoir in the sky.

| Robert W. Butler

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