Ettore, Hola, Marietta, Mela, Rocco, and Tako are the stars of 2022’s most surprising film. More importantly, they are all bonded over one simple fact: they play the titular character of EO. The other important thing about them is that they are six gray donkeys. How wonderful. What rejuvenating cinema EO is, an artful reverie of mule-centered adventures across present-day Europe. It is also the sprightliest film of 2022, directed by the apparently youthful 84-year-old Polish cinema veteran Jerzy Skolimowski. Having directed a wide breadth of films since the 1960s, it’s a wild detail to consider, that Skolimowski’s two most prominent works are 1970’s Deep End and 2022’s EO. That’s a 52-year distance between the director’s primary works.
Whatever you think EO will be, it will almost certainly be something else. Spelling it out isn’t really going to help you. Spelling it out also isn’t going to help me. Where do you even start? A donkey lives between spaces and places between Poland and Italy and suffers the poorness of mankind’s treatment of animals, but it’s not just that and it’s not just about that. Imagine instead a floating dreamlike odyssey of kaleidoscopic color, folding and fragmenting storylines about a donkey’s journey, where the frame might become hallucinatory or flush-red or cold-blue… or a mechanical robot could take the place of an animal. Anything can happen. Sometimes a small familial drama breaks out and doesn’t connect. Often, it’s just a gorgeous journey film about a trekking donkey who travels through people’s lives and teaches valuable lessons to everyone he contacts.
What are those lessons? Anyway. It takes six donkeys to play EO. Donkeys, after all, are hard to direct. They do not listen very well, probably. I’ve never directed one. If I were to direct one, I’d also direct six of them. We can imagine that if one donkey doesn’t do what you need it to, one of the other five will. It’s the year’s finest ensemble, perhaps, but what Skolimowski captures about the animals is a characteristic soft sweetness, a loving lens on their state of being, from a circus, to a petting zoo, to a farm where EO is shunned in favor of a horse.
Describing the film is just not the same as watching and feeling the film. It’s better to live inside its illusory audiovisual imagination, which is vast, multi-colored, and utterly fascinating to see and hear. Much of this is down to the incredible work of the composer Paweł Mykietyn’s symphonic phantasmagoria, the ethereal alien sounds of the movie providing a right-sized approach to the film’s searching and fragmented sense of cohesion. It works out that Skolimowski is also a painter. His images, where the camera often floats and swirls around farm animals, frogs, insects, and nature, accomplish an earthy aesthetic that pairs so well with the dissociative sonic elements. The film is given full range to go in any direction and so it does go in any direction and you can never say what will happen from one moment to the next.
Sometimes, you’re watching a donkey transfer from one location to the next. Right after, you’re floating like a circling bird in the sky, as the screen takes on a scarlet-hued, as the world of the donkey expands alongside an audiovisual sense of frequency, amplitude, and rhythm until it all draws together in one last gasp, the shortest 88 minutes of film you can watch this year. Do the components fit together? It would be more peculiar if they did. The wonder of the film is also in its reckless abandon for deterministic form and function. We never really know where EO is going. It’s just always going. We only know that we’re always lucky to be along for the ride.