Who would’ve thought that film about a donkey — told from their point of view — would be so captivating?! That’s what I thought when I almost passed on the screening of Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski’s last film EO at TIFF this year. Talk about a pleasant surprise, EO is visual storytelling at its best, and it gives us one of the best acting performances of the year — from a donkey (or, more accurately, “donkeys”) nonetheless. I went into this one blind, not knowing anything about the plot, but allowed Skolimowski to take me on a journey marked by absurdity and warmth filled with turns around every corner.
EO is a grey donkey with white rings around his eyes who is repossessed after the circus he’s a part of goes under. He and his caretaker Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska) have a very special bond, and they both embark on a journey of discovery to reconnect after being separated. As EO treks across the continent, he encounters the best and worst of humankind while forming fleeting bonds and connections with the people and environments he meets. As he interacts with these individuals, you connect with and empathize with him as he leads viewers to explore their place in the world and our connections with everything else.
The story unfolds almost like a bunch of vignettes where the donkey is the red thread connecting everyone and everything. The storyline is clever, yet realistic — at moments shocking and intense and in the next moment joyous. It shows the human condition for what it is — often violent and angry, full of greed, hubris, and hypocrisy, but other times redeeming and truthful. As the scenery and situations change, so do our emotions. There is very little dialogue in the film, but that does not stop it from speaking volumes.
EO, as a film, is visually stunning and beautifully shot with arresting frames — so much so it makes you rethink the way you experience and see the world. And allowing the viewers to view that world through the eyes of an animal that doesn’t see things through the lens of good and bad or right and wrong, allows us to gain a fresh perspective on human behavior and the world around us.
The film is almost like being immersed in virtual reality, where we are experiencing the world in an out-of-body experience — it truly transports us. Skolinowski and his cinematographer’s (Michal Dymek) use of light, colors, music, and camera angles set the scene and tell a story that words alone could not — it tells the story of a life lived and allows us to share in this journey called life.
Who would’ve thought that the donkey’s life could be so exciting and transformative?! But this Polish auteur shows us that it can be as we follow EO as he wanders the world without judgment while showing us our true selves. So while it might sound like a film you would usually pass, give it a try and allow yourself to be open to the possibilities in this visual jaunt as we ramble and roam through this complicated world with an unsuspecting, yet seemingly cognizant donkey as our guide.