This Academy Award nominated film is a masterful achievement

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Opens April 3
Broadway theatre
4.5 out of 5

It’s not about the donkey.

Sure, EO is named after the jackass in the poster. But that’s just an excuse to provide a dispassionate, judgement-free look at Polish society — and by extension, the rest of the Western world. The result is not pretty, but don’t pin it on the poor beast.

We meet EO as part of a circus. The donkey is freed by animal rights activists and thrown into a world he doesn’t understand. He’s subsequently adopted by a therapeutic centre, soccer hooligans, a fox breeder, and a priest, among others. Each scenario is a new opportunity for EO to witness human follies: some comical, some harrowing. Through his eyes, experiences we’re familiar with appear anew.

The brain behind the mostly silent feature is Jerzy Skolimowski. A Polish filmmaker happy to take a role in The Avengers (as Georgi Luchkov) to finance his more personal projects, Skolimowski has crafted some terrific movies: a loss-of-innocence comedy that becomes a stalker horror film without missing a beat (Deep End, 1970); and an utterly weird romantic drama featuring a killer scream (The Shout, 1978), just to name two.

The filmmaker’s knack to show audiences aspects of themselves they would rather ignore is in full display in EO. Take the hooligans episode: two groups of fans attribute to the donkey a significance that’s not rooted in reality, yet that doesn’t stop them from acting on it. Why should it, right?

The film unfolds so seamlessly, with such clarity, Skolimowski’s directorial skills are only noticeable once you realize you’ve been watching an entire film from the perspective of a donkey and never questioned it. At times the cinematography is breathtaking. On other occasions, you would rather avert your eyes.

There is one segment that sticks like a sore thumb: a melodramatic interlude starring Isabelle Huppert that seems to be related to the main narrative only tangentially, until the repercussions become evident. Then again, it’s Huppert, so it’s inherently watchable. In short, the best 90 minutes you’ll spend on your couch or at a movie theatre this early in the year, hands-down. ■