Editor’s note: This is the second installment of an ongoing blog on films I enjoyed at HIFF–The Hawai’i International Film Festival
One of the great things about HIFF is the eclectic nature of the films chosen for the festival. Not only do you get primo productions from Asia and the Pacific, but also wonderful submissions from Europe and elsewhere.
EO, is a case and point.
Made in Poland by 84 year old, film director, screenwriter, dramatist and actor, Jerzy Skolimowski, the film premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it won the Jury Prize and the Soundtrack award. (The movie is loosely inspired by Au Hazard Balthazar a 1966 French drama film directed by legendary director Robert Bresson).
EO follows the journey of a gray donkey named appropriately enough, EO.
Following his removal from a traveling circus, he begins an epic road trip across the Polish and Italian countryside encountering both cruelty and kindness.
EO is assisted and hampered by a cast of characters including a young Italian priest (Lorenzo Zurzolo), a Countess (Isabelle Huppert) an unruly Polish soccer team and other random individuals–both human and animal.
The story begins in a Polish circus, where the animal is doted upon by his trainer and fellow performer, Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska). Life is pretty good but that ends when animal rights activists close down the circus. EO ends up at a petting zoo which seems like a great place to land but it’s not completely to his liking and he busts out. That’s when the fun begins…
He enters a deep dark forest at night.
It’s a spooky, foreboding foray into a netherworld where there are howling wolves, foxes, owls, menacing hunters and rugged terrain that he stumbles through.
It’s anything but Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. There’s even an allusion to the Holocaust (hey it’s Poland) as the animal walks through a graveyard with tombstones inscribed with Hebrew characters. Not an accident me thinks. The director’s father fought for the Polish resistance and was executed by the Germans. His family also hid Jews during the Nazi occupation.
EO emerges, and inevitably wanders into a subterranean storm drain, complete with screeching bats. Is he entering the bowels of hell? Maybe.
Somehow this intrepid donkey makes it through this hellish landscape. There’s daylight (literally) at the end of the tunnel but don’t let up your guard EO. Your real challenge will be with homo sapiens on the other side.
Life for a donkey is tough enough on the road but people put him to work as a beast of burden. (That’s his job, isn’t it?)
It seems it’s the men (vs. the women) who present the most vexing challenge. EO wanders into a soccer match where he becomes the mascot of the winning team. He’s exalted for a while and then nearly bludgeoned to death by the hooligan-like rival soccer team who blame the donkey for their defeat.
More trials and tribulations confront EO as he’s put on a truck bound for a slaughter house. The truck driver, a long-haired heavy metal freak, is later “slaughtered” randomly at a truckstop and EO is adopted by a good looking Italian priest, who we find out, has a gambling problem.
The two make their way to Italy and they end up at a villa. However, it’s not exactly a Roman holiday for this donkey. The villa, belonging to countess (Isabelle Huppert) is connected to the priest’s family and they both find at least a temporary home. The studly priest gets sexually entangled with the countess.
Time for EO to bolt…
In essence, the film allows the viewer to see the world from the perspective of the donkey. What he sees is hardly edifying—dysfunction, societal ills and more often than not, callousness. Once in a while a kindly human is there for him.
It’s not a pretty picture but the cinematography (by Mychal Dymek) is phenomenal.
This compelling tale, combined with visual excellence, is a winner.