December 4, 2022 – I grew up on Disney movies about animals, like Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, The Incredible Journey, etc. This movie is like that, but aimed at adults instead of children. This film has already won several awards is Poland's official entry in the international film category for the 95th Academy Awards.
This film, inspired by a film about a mistreated donkey, Robert Bresson's “Au Hasard Balthazar” (1966) is similarly a film about people's treatment of animals. It is a film about people as seen through the eyes of a donkey named EO. This name reminds me of the perpetually sad donkey in Winnie the Pooh, Eor.
Sad Eor would be perfectly at home in this sad donkey road trip about a donkey that is often ignored and mistreated. EO is a featured act in a traveling circus, lovingly cared for by his partner, Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska) in the act. The circus has to give up its animals due to foreclosure, so EO is sent off to a stable where he and horses are cared for. However, the horses are treated much better.
EO is a very calm animal, but some of the horses are very flighty and easily spooked. EO, unattended and hitched to a cart, takes off when one of these nervous horses start acting up nearby, causing damage to a trophy case inexplicably placed in the stable. For this, he is banished to a farm, where he is briefly visited by his old friend, Kassandra.
When Kassandra leaves, EO escapes from the farm and follows her, ending up in a forest with wild animals, including wolves. EO keeps traveling, becoming a spectator at a soccer game. He lets loose a loud bray at the instant a penalty kick is made. The shot is missed, and the donkey is blamed. The winning team takes EO to a local tavern for a victory celebration.
The winning team recognizes EO's role in its victory. The losing team shows up with clubs and starts a riot. They also attack EO, who ends up in a veterinary hospital. EO recovers from his injuries and is sold, along with horses and loaded into a truck. A series of misadventures follows a long road trip.
At one point EO is brought to a lavish estate belonging to a countess (played by Isabelle Huppert of “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris”) but he wanders off again, seemingly still looking for Kassandra. Things go from bad to worse. There is death, and a shocking murder in this movie.
It is very ironic that animal rights protesters in the film target EO's circus for its mistreatment of animals, because it was at the circus that EO was happiest, at least is seems that way in this film.
The way people are portrayed in this film is pretty cynical. While it is not surprising that people often don't have the inclination or time to properly take care of animals in their care, here, people (except for Kassandra) seem to go out of their way to neglect EO and treat him as a commodity.
This is supposed to be a sad movie. Director Jerzy Skolimowski says the last time he cried at a movie was when he watched “Au Hasard Balthazar” (1966). I haven't seen that one, but this film, inspired by that one, doesn't seem sad as much as it is puzzling. It's puzzling because it seems a lot like a story about farm animals that is being told by somebody who doesn't know much about farm animals.
If this is supposed to be a good study of humans from the viewpoint of an animal, I prefer the Disney approach. This movie ends up anthropomorphizing a donkey, even though it tries to avoid it. This sort of thing has been done many times in many movies, mostly in cartoons aimed at children, and mostly with dogs and cats.
In this country, there are a lot of dogs who are better fed, and who receive better health care, than a lot of people do. People who mistreat animals also often end up mistreating human beings. How you choose to treat animals, and how you choose to portray animals in movies says more about you than it does the animals. This movie is no exception to the rule.
Even though this movie is only 88 minutes long, I kept looking at my watch to see how much time is left, because it does move along quite slowly. The cinematography by Michal Dymek (“Supernova”) and film editing by Agnieszka Glinska (“Sweat”) do a good job of suggesting emotion in the faces the various donkeys used in the film. At one point, near the end of the movie, the film runs backwards, creating a compelling effect.
I'll take Jerzy Skolimowski's word that no animals were mistreated in the making of this film, but EO, as a character, is not treated very well, and I also felt mistreated, as a viewer and misrepresented as a human being. This film rates a C.
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