Balthazar enters the void in Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO, following the POV of a donkey as he embarks into a road movie looking for.. Freedom? Justice? Carrots? A donkey-chotte fighting against the windmills of animal abuse. Donkeys… with their graceless voices, small disproportionate bodies, basic grey colour, they are the bottom of the equine world. As they say in the film: “it’s not even a fucking horse! It’s horse meat for salami”. Let’s face it- there is clearly a lack of donkey representation in the film industry. Things have not been easy since the end of the Shrek saga, so this film is clearly a step ahead in the right direction. The comparison to Bresson’s Balthazar, the Brando of all cinematic donkeys, is inevitable, but Skolimowski’s emulation reinforces the statement that the mistreatment of animals is still an issue even 60 years later; emule- get it?
The veteran Polish director playfully shoots his latest film with the curiosity of a first time filmmaker, including rotating cameras and bright flashing colours, having fun experimenting. The repetitive narrative sees the indomitable donkey escaping from a number of situations, galloping into cinematically rich shots which, however, add little to the plot. During the many episodes, our four-legged hero is seen staring at a monumental white stallion being used for a photoshoot, while no attentions are given to him. What are his big brown eyes looking at? Is he jealous? Is he sad? Does he even understand what's going on? He is later found watching a football match. Is he wondering why people are fighting over a ball? Does he want to play too? Does he even understand?! If the donkey was talking, it would have been on the likes of Babe, Paulie and Chicken Run. All animals empathise with one another, and there is no in-between for people, as they are either cruel or hyper friendly, on the verge of the ridiculous. The weirdest peak is reached when the animal is kidnapped by a sexy italian priest who has an incest with her mother, played by no less than Isabelle Huppert. Why not?
We are used to see bad actors acting like animals, and it is refreshing to be moved the other way around, for once. As the credits rolled on screen, I wondered what the donkey would think of his debut. Is he satisfied with his performance? What’s his next gig? And if he wins the Palm d’Or, how will it taste?