This review originally ran May 19, 2022, in conjunction with the film’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
Just two days into this year’s Cannes Film Festival, audiences have already confronted puking zombies, freak-out orgies and a surprise visit from the Trumps. But nothing could quite prepare festival goers for the outlandish offer of Jerzy Skolimowski’s “EO,” which premiered in competition late Thursday night.
Following a donkey separated from a loving owner and cast into an unforgiving world, the film offers a neon buffed glow-up to Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar” and plays out more or less like a Nicholas Winding Refn influenced horror flick – which makes the fact that Skolimowski is an 84-years-young Polish man, the oldest director at Cannes, all the more surprising.
A through-and-through exercice de style as the French would put it, “EO” has plenty on its mind and nothing much to say, idling through a series of vignettes than more often not end with a punch-line of a forbidden kiss or a sudden act of violence, capturing them all with a flashy and urgent style of a music video or Super Bowl car commercial.
One need not look far to see in this tale of a lonely beast of burden traipsing across the countryside a condemnation of modern Polish society, especially in sequences when the titular donkey first witnesses and then succumbs to a bout of skinhead hooligan violence, or when it clops across a forest bed we soon learn was once a Jewish burial site.
At the same time, Skolimowski – who shot this project over a two-year period – seems more interested in simply making his camera swoop and soar and generally perform its series of stupid pet tricks.
In many ways, this rather silly (if quite entertaining) trifle makes for a fitting entry for Cannes’ 75th edition. Skolimowski approaches the material with the hunger and zeal of a young film student, lifting a framework from Robert Bresson and filtering through references to recent festival provocateurs like Lars von Trier, Refn, and Michael Haneke. A late-in-film cameo from Isabelle Huppert, riffing on her role in Christophe Honoré’s “My Mother,” only furthers that impression.
In between long, language-free bouts, often tinted with a blood-red sheen and scored by the animal’s grunts and heaves, the occasional bit of dialogue pops up to underscore Skolimowski’s genre-bending project. “Don’t scare him,” cries one animal catcher after a long, wordless, and horror-inflected sequence. “He’s only a donkey!”
While the humans come and go, “EO” offers Cannes’ most sustained focus on an ass since Abdellatif Kechiche’s operatically lecherous “Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo ” in 2019. And unlike Kechiche’s nearly four-hour effort – which premiered to jeers and outrage and was never screened again – Skolimowski’s 90-minute doodle knows not to overstay its welcome.
“EO” is a fun and technically accomplished bit of pastiche that could very well find purchase with Vincent Lindon’s jury, and might even score U.S. distribution. Just don’t expect to spot it at your local megaplex.
“EO” opens Nov. 18 in NYC and Dec. 2 in LA via Sideshow/Janus Films.