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November 12, 2022

Denver Film Festival - EO


Jerzy Skolimowksi - 2022
Janus Films/Sideshow

Always mentioned in discussing EO is that Jerzy Skolimowki was inspired by the French classic, Au Hasard Balthazar by Robert Bresson, from 1966. While it is not a requirement to appreciate the new film, I would recommend seeing Bresson's to compare the similarities and differences, but also because it is great filmmaking. For myself, I cannot write about Skolimowski without discussing Bresson, but also some thoughts on Skolimowski's past work.

There is a streak of fatalism in Skoliowski's work. Deep End (1970) opens and closes with excerpts from Cat Stevens' song, "But I Might Die Tonight". The more recent Essential Killing (2010) ends with the death of the Arab terrorist on the run. Even the titles suggest finality. Even when there is no death, characters find themselves in situations over which they have no control.

Au Hasard Balthazar is about the life of a donkey in a small French border town. Initially adopted as a pet by a school girl, Marie, Balthazar grows to be a working animal, mostly abused by his respective owners and neglected by the now teenage Marie. The majority of the film takes place in the unnamed town, and several scenes to not involve Balthazar at all. The one scene the Skolimowski takes from Bresson is of Marie in a tight two-shot embracing and petting the donkey. EO, the name of the Skolimowski's donkey and the sound of the donkey's bray, is embraced and petted by his young, redhead owner, Kasandra. While not outright duplicating the older film, the visual similarity can not be missed.

Where EO is markedly different is that it more significantly is from the point of view of the donkey, with fewer scenes exclusively of people and very little dialogue. Eo not only goes through a series of multiple keepers, but travels from Poland though unidentified parts of Europe including an Italian villa. Freed from being part of a circus that has gone bankrupt, EO has his own sense of independence and mischievousness. Even with the few comic moments, it would be a mistake to confuse EO with an animal film intended for family viewing. Even the people with the best intentions towards EO are questionable. More questionable are the interactions between those people.

Unlike Bresson, Skolimowski makes extensive use of extended traveling camera shots. There is a greater sense of intimacy in choosing the narrower Academy ratio rather than a wide screen format. PaweĊ‚ Mykietyn provided an unusual film score with parts incorporating the gamalen. The screenplay, co-written by producer Ewa Piaskowska was also inspired by the desire to break away from the traditional narrative film structure. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes last May, EO is now Poland's entry for the International Film Oscar.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 12, 2022 06:56 AM