‘EO’, a film that delves into the soul of a donkey

It was because of the eyes. Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski decided years ago that his next film would be about an animal. He and his wife and co-screenwriter Ewa Piaskowska had already grown bored with the traditional film structure and dialogue and wanted to do something different.

But they did not know which animal to choose. Cats and dogs were out. They thought too many movies had already been made about them. Then they came across the donkey, a stoic and intelligent creature with historical significance not only in religion but also in film, an animal made famous by Robert Bresson’s masterpiece “Au Hasard Balthazar” in 1966.

But it was those big, expressive eyes that convinced them they had found their star.

The result: the film “EO”, the story of a circus donkey who is kidnapped from its owner and begins a long spiritual journey through the countryside of Italy and modern Poland, in search of beings good and cruel humans. Eo doesn’t talk, but she dreams, and you can’t help but feel her burdens, her loneliness, or her hope. It is, they say, a love letter to animals, and is currently playing in theaters across the United States.

“We wanted this movie to be more of an experience than a traditional movie,” Piaskowska said in a recent interview with her husband. “We were very conscious of the fact that we wanted to reach the public mainly through emotions, because our hero has no words. From the start, the idea was that we did not want to tell the story of the donkey, but we wanted the audience to feel what it’s like to be an ass”.

Skolimowski, who is 84 and has been making films since the 1960s, has been widely praised for the film in what has been an emotional year. After a particularly long production that started in 2020 and was postponed several times due to the pandemic, they finally wrapped in March. Two months later, they are at the Cannes Film Festival, where they win the jury prize.

Since then, “EO” has been chosen to represent Poland at the Oscars, won several prestigious awards from critics groups and was named best film of the year by Manohla Dargis of The New York Times.

Although there were hiccups due to the pandemic, the production was actually quite smooth. Marietta, Tako, Hola, Ettore, Rocco and Mela were the six donkeys used to play Eo, and each took it upon themselves to create a calming and positive environment to get the animals to do what they had to do.

“Everything was very calm, very calm,” Skolimowski said. “There was no rush and people were really, really patient.”

If they needed the donkey to cross a bridge and the animal wouldn’t cross it, all they could do was wait.

“Time ceased to exist,” said Piaskowska, who was also the producer. “You give him carrots and expect more. Then you try with another donkey. I can’t describe how cute the sets were. Everyone speaks very softly, everyone smiles. We were like kindergarteners looking for a way to convince the donkey to do this or that.”

They are especially grateful to cinematographer Michal Dymek, who sometimes had to shoot from the animal’s point of view, and editor Agnieszka Glińska for clever cuts and juxtapositions that help bring the performance to life and immerse the audience. in the animal’s emotional life without the need for dialogue. Composer Pawel Mykietyn was even asked to create a score to serve as Eo’s internal monologue.

“Instead of a dialogue, he produced the sound that would express the emotion, the mood of the animal,” Skolimowski said. “He did it perfectly. I think the movie owes him a lot.”

Giving credit and praise is somewhat new for Skolimowski, he admitted. But perhaps part of the film’s success is due to a multi-generational crew.

“I think the biggest difference between ‘EO’ and my other films is that for the first time I was able to fully utilize the talents, enthusiasm and goodwill of my collaborators,” acknowledged the filmmaker. . “Before, I was a little selfish, I always put myself forward.”

He attributes this change to the 17-year hiatus between films, during which he rediscovered painting, a passion for which he never had enough time. During this period, he said, he became “a hungry young artist, but not as selfish as I was when I was a hungry young filmmaker”.

“Now I can be much more generous and I can be generous with my collaborators, who played a huge role in the film,” Skolimowski said.

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