This film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival
The world of the unknown as seen through the eyes of a former circus donkey is poignantly visualized in “EO,” director and co-writer Jerzy Skolimowski‘s deeply affecting, contemplative film. The story follows the animal as he navigates through the Polish and Italian countryside on a solo journey in a foreign landscape. His path is one that will lead to joy, kindness, pain, and cruelty.
EO, so named because it mimics the sound of a donkey’s cries, has never known life outside of the circus. He is well-loved and cared for by his person, Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska). When an animal rights group shuts down the whole operation, EO is sent away. He escapes his enclosure and sets off on a trek that puts him at the mercy of the humans he encounters. Some are kindhearted and compassionate, but others have no concern for their inhumane treatment of a fellow sentient being. EO’s innocence is a source of delight and wonder, but it also proves to be a detriment to his health and safety.
The film cleverly plays with expectations and perspective by putting viewers into the mind of its charismatic four-legged leading man. As humans, we like to pretend we know what’s best for animals because we supposedly have reached a higher plane of intelligence. But in Skolimowski and co-writer Ewa Piaskowska‘s story, it turns out that closing the circus closing made life worse for EO. He’s enjoying a taste of freedom, but at what price?
The cinematography (by Michal Dymek) is gorgeous and fully immersive, strengthening the human – animal connection in a way that’s touching (and eventually, heartbreaking). This allows the audience to see and experience the world just as EO does, and it makes for moving, soulful viewing. Early along his adventure’s path, EO approaches new wildlife he comes across and strange sounds he hears with a curiosity and wonder that’s endearing. The end of his journey is one that’s filmed so perfectly, it had me close to tears.
I must issue a trigger warning because this film has explicit scenes of animal abuse and cruelty (but be aware that no animals were put in danger nor actually harmed while making this project). It’s all acting, but it doesn’t make it any less distressing. The most horrifying scene depicts a vicious, violent, extended attack that’s shown from the point of view of the donkey. It’s something that will forever be seared in my mind, and I really wish I had never seen it.
In the end, the film shows the consequences of inaction and neglect at the hands of humans. We are a species that can represent the best that this world has to offer as well as the absolute worst. As an animal lover, “EO” truly spoke to me and affected me deeply. It’s one of the most beautiful and meaningful films of the year, both inside and out.
By: Louisa Moore