Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO lands like a defibrillator to the chest, a jolting and instant dose of cinematic verve designed to shock the stupefied viewer out of complacency and restore a traditional heartbeat. As easy and highly effective as Au Hasard Balthazar, Robert Bresson’s animal movie for art-house habitués, EO makes use of the central conceit of that 1966 basic as a leaping off level to spin a parable a few light donkey and his misadventures throughout fashionable Europe. It premiered earlier this 12 months at Cannes, the place it received the Jury Prize, and is now in restricted launch.
Skilled on the Lodz Movie Faculty in Poland (the place Roman Polanski was a classmate) earlier than the times of Steadicam and CGI, Skolimowski is among the final of an historical breed of cinema nonconformists. A 17-year hiatus from filmmaking throughout which he turned an internationally acknowledged painter resulted in 2008 on the age of 70. Now in his ninth decade, the director is having fun with a outstanding second wind that’s yielded a few of his strongest work so far. EO, which he co-wrote along with his spouse and artistic associate, Ewa Piaskowska, is the fruit of a seed planted greater than 5 many years in the past, when Balthazar turned the one movie to make him shed tears.
The story begins in Poland, the place the title creature—whose title references the bray of a mule—labors as a circus attraction. Animal rights protestors set into movement a authorized process that separates EO from his residence and the lady (Sandra Drzymalska) who cares for him, after which he’s handed from proprietor to proprietor, struggling quite a few captures and escapes. One poignant episode finds him stranded within the woods amongst wolves, who’re subsequently stalked by unseen hunters with inexperienced lasers fastened to their rifles. In one other, he witnesses a soccer rivalry that explodes right into a mindless riot.
The concept of a standard farm animal that soulfully witnesses human cruelty may solely work within the palms of a grasp storyteller. Supremely assured, Skolimowski employs quite a lot of gripping visible and aural strategies that maintain consideration for everything of the movie’s 86-minute runtime. Bulging close-ups of the animal’s face command empathetic engagement from the viewer. Blurred edges of the body recommend subjectivity. Flashbacks grant entry to EO’s ideas, and at one level, the restricted narration is damaged with a sequence of breathtaking drone actions in opposition to a blood-red sky. Shot over a two-year interval (thanks, COVID) with three completely different cinematographers, the movie flaunts a splendidly eclectic but cohesive fashion that imbues the easy storyline with a constant visible depth. Pawel Mykietyn’s thunderous rating is an achievement in itself; a deftly variegated soundtrack that brings emotional coloration to a spread of conditions.
Whether or not meant as a critique of the European meat trade, or a easy plea for kindness to animals, EO transcends the boundaries of social commentary to develop into a holy quest. By the eyes of this straightforward beast, Skolimowski traverses the trendy world and finds it spiritually missing. A key second involving a younger priest (Lorenzo Zurzolo) and a lady later revealed to be his stepmother (Isabelle Huppert, in a characteristically intense cameo) provides a pointy examination of latest society. A chilling interlude depicting a robotic canine’s uncanny gait reawakens our choice for nature and sweetness over mechanization.
Though Skolimowski lacks Bresson’s distinctly Christian sensibility, EO is a singular and achieved work in its personal proper, tender however not maudlin, pessimistic however not nihilistic, grand and even visionary. What may have been a mawkish sermon is remodeled by Skolimowski’s complete dedication to the fabric. In an period the place detachment is cinematically modern, it’s refreshing to see a filmmaker so passionately engaged along with his subject material, and so keen to go the restrict.