Every year, an unofficial theme of TIFF emerges. Some years it’s biopics, others it’s the omnipresence of Gael García Bernal. This year, it’s donkeys.
With no less than three movies featuring plot points involving donkeys (looking at you, Triangle of Sadness and The Banshees of Inisherin), the humble and adorable beast gets the star treatment in the Polish film, EO, a commentary on man’s brutal nature. Nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, EO was a joint winner of the Jury Prize and recipient of the Cannes Soundtrack Award for composer Pawel Mykietyn. (The film is also Poland’s official submission for the Best International Feature Oscar.)
A modern-day Au Hasard Balthasar, Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO follows the titular soft, grey donkey with sad eyes. The closure of his circus sets donkey EO on a path through life where he encounters both good and bad folks and other creatures along the way. Enduring hardship and strife, as well as kind words and attention along the way, EO’s journey is a beautiful, maddening, sentimental, heartbreaking, and humourous one. Plus, there’s a top-notch cameo from Isabelle Huppert!
At a well-paced 88-minutes, EO doesn’t feel constrained to a plot. TIFF described the film as a “road movie” and it truly is as the donkey wanders the winding road of life’s unexpected experiences. Beautifully photographed by cinematographer Michal Dymek, EO is at times surreal, presented in stark red-tinted images that make it feel like the donkey is caught in a horror movie – and at times, it truly is a horror movie. The film isn’t always successful when it comes to balancing tonal shifts between the light-hearted silliness of EO’s adventure and the darkness of human nature, it is always intriguing.
The people in EO’s life come and go but the steadfast little donkey is filmed with optimism and wonder throughout Skolimowski’s miniature saga. As one might expect, a movie like this is both a beautiful watch and a tough one for animal lovers — especially when treated to this work on an IMAX screen during TIFF.