“EO”, a shattering plea for nature carried by a donkey

OFFICIAL SELECTION – IN COMPETITION

Swerves, eclipses and reappearances, Jerzy Skolimowski has experienced many throughout an oh so eventful career, since his debut in the 1960s as a figure of the Polish new wave. They were followed by many wanderings across Europe (Departure, deep-end, Illegal work) to the United States (The Lightship, 1986), then more or less long retreats at a distance from the plateaus. A specialist in surprise returns, the old Polish master still finds, at 84, seven years later 11 minutes (2015), to pull out of its hat a new feature film topped with two enigmatic letters, EOwhich offers the Cannes competition its first major UFO.

In EO, we must first hear an onomatopoeia, that which attaches to the braying of the donkey (“hi-han”), beast of burden to which is awarded here, once is not custom, the leading role. The idea is not new: it immediately refers to Robert Bresson’s masterpiece Random balthazar (1966), recounting the ordeal of a poor donkey, mistreated by humans, and whom Skolimowski recognizes as the only movie to [l]to have moved to tears ».

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EO is also the name of his little Sardinian donkey with gray coat and lost gaze, who, fifty-six years later, is going through a world even worse than that of his model. We discover him as a circus animal, partner of a beautiful tightrope walker, the only one who loves him, protects him and defends him. He will be quickly separated from it, with tears in his eyes, following new legislation prohibiting animal shows and the possession of living goods ». Carried from right to left, pulled to hue and dia, EO begins worrying tribulations leading him from stud farms to farms, from one master to another, and from one form of exploitation to the next. Occasionally escaping, traversing roads, fields and forests, he surveys the stricken landscape of human turpitude.

Experiment without net

From Bresson’s film, Skolimowski retains this gesture of placing an animal at the center of the story, which induces a powerful displacement of gaze on the relationships between the kingdoms. But the comparison stops there, the filmmaker taking aesthetic options radically opposed to the Jansenism of the original. Above all, the odyssey of the donkey offers here the occasion for a debauchery of forms, a sumptuous expenditure of color, a furious deployment of adventurous holds, a perceptual frenzy. From the first scene, a circus act is entirely repainted in monochrome red under stroboscopic flashes, so many bursts of drunken beauty. Color is the “red thread” of the adventure, woven in dotted lines, here in the twilight that sets the horizon ablaze, there in the wounds of the poor animal. Purple like the blood of suffering, but also like the hell that Poland looks like, and beyond, our contemporary world.

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