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EO at UW Cinematheque
January 26 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pmFree
In the grass beyond a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Eo stands calmly with a garland of carrots around his mane, a subtle nod to the canonized wreath of flowers from “Au Hasard Balthazar.”
Several films in recent years have centered the emotional experiences and points of view of our fellow mammals—Viktor Kossakovsky’s Gunda (2020) and Andrea Arnold’s Cow (2021), to name a couple—but Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO (2022) is perhaps the first to render the life of one, a donkey, with the sort of psychological flair typically reserved for a human or at least a fully anthropomorphized computer rendering.
Borrowing liberally from one of the all-time cinematic touchstones, Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), EO perseveres as a metaphysical and earthly narrative. Those disparate elements interact singularly throughout a tragic cross-country journey that begins at a Polish traveling circus where the titular donkey is adored by his ring-performance partner Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska, analogous to Anne Wiazemsky’s Marie in Balthazar). In a way, EO unfolds as a love story with Shakespearean shades, as the two are inevitably separated, and Eo’s journey becomes one of silent reconciliation. Skolimowski and cinematographer Michał Dymek visually manifest Eo’s desire for Kasandra’s warmth that’s missing through all his wandering far and near, her hands caressing his muzzle and mane.
Skolimowski amplifies Bresson’s spiritual and religious Dostoyevsky parable with an urgent sociological angle. This is partly due to the setting in modern times, but also how the film represents the contrived separations of our kind from innocent observer Eo through its use of hyperlinked vignettes. It trades tones and genres as Eo escapes or moves between places in scenes that persistently showcase the contrast between fluorescence and natural light, recalling Terence Malick’s predilections.
But it would all be somehow incomplete without the dramatic heft of Paweł Mykietyn’s score, which is almost instantaneously overwhelming—its weeping strings conjuring a certain narrative artifice of old Hollywood, and at once establishing Eo’s migration as one that sways between melodrama and magical realism. Like Arnold’s Cow, EO would seem to be outlying in Skolimowski’s filmography, and yet it carries a distinctive line of romantic drama that he cultivated more than a half-century ago. EO is perhaps the sum of the director’s innermost conflicts that emerges as hope for a world where love is essential and cruelty is incidental.
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