I can say with full confidence that EO is the best live-action movie I've ever seen where the star is a donkey. Director Jerzy Skolimowski was inspired by Robert Bresson's 1966 Au Hasard Balthzar, another film about a donkey which I have not yet seen. If we get a third, I'll see all three and write about the trend. Imagining this movie with an animal other than a donkey is impossible. The creatures are odd to look at and the braying noises they make can sound jubilant or mournful, depending on what you choose to hear. They have a personality, just not one that's regal, like horses have. In other words, donkeys are, to an extent, blank slates. EO capitalizes on that, helping viewers empathize with the titular beast as he wanders through a series of scenarios.
EO is part of a circus performance with a human partner, Kassandra (Sandra Drzymalska). When animal rights activists succeed in getting authorities to remove all the animals, he is packed up and sent off to a stable. Seeing the horses become upset spooks him, leading the donkey to wander off. He ends up roaming around, getting picked up by various people who either care for him or mistreat him. There's a farm where he gets to play with children, a stint with a heavy metal-loving trucker, time in a veterinary clinic, and even a brief reunion with his former circus partner.
The point of the film is to see the world through this donkey's eyes, to comment on how people treat animals, as well as how they treat each other. EO himself has no opinion on any of this, of course, but experiencing events from his point of view provides just the right perspective. The best scene finds him being hailed as a good luck charm for a soccer team, only to quickly turn into a bad luck charm when the team they beat comes looking for revenge. Those hooligans take their anger out on EO, too. That sequence reflects on the absurd full-on commitment people have to sports. Other moments are designed to explore the “expendability” of animals, the way some folks overlook that these are living creatures who feel pain and a desire to have contentment.
EO is definitely an episodic film, with each section created to look at the overall theme from a different angle. Most of them work. The final one, where the donkey ends up as the pet to an irresponsible young Italian man with a gambling problem, feels a bit out of place with the rest. At least we get to watch the great French actress Isabelle Huppert chewing the guy out as his wealthy mother. The lack of a proper plot is slightly limiting, especially on occasions when Skolimowski throws in a random element, like the robotic “dog” that shows up for no apparent reason.
Nevertheless, EO holds your attention due to the potency of its observations about animal treatment. Excellent cinematography helps, with the camera often getting up close on the donkey to reinforce the meaning of his journey. The director additionally tints the image red in several sequences to emphasize danger or discontentment. EO is a meditative work, conceived to spur thought regarding the creatures we share this earth with. It succeeds quite nicely on that count. Our animal hero sees and endures a lot over the course of 88 minutes. He asks for none of it, accepts all of it. His fate is perpetually in the hands of humans who may or may not care that he is alive. After going on this captivating trek with him, you'll think twice about your own animal encounters.
out of four
EO is unrated, but contains brief strong language and some graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.