Strap in for an unforgettable, visionary trip, an Oscar-nominated journey that stunned Cannes with its cinematic flair. Your hosts? An octogenarian Polish auteur – and a donkey.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
One of 2022’s least likely film trends was a focus on donkeys, from Triangle of Sadness (NZIFF 2022) to The Banshees of Inisherin. But just one film dared to place a donkey centre stage, boldly going where only Robert Bresson had gone before.
Anyone expecting the austerity of Au Hasard, Balthazar – an inspiration acknowledged by director Jerzy Skolimowski – will be roundly disabused by EO’s opening seconds, as red strobing lights bathe a circus performance. (Photosensitive viewers are cautioned). While much of Balthazar recurs in a remixed fashion – a drunken celebration, an aging chateau, beatings, gunshots, tender connection – this titular donkey’s journey eschews the allegorical for the experiential, taking us both deep into EO’s world and outwards to the cosmic.
Skolimowski (Deep End, The Shout) cut his teeth during the French New Wave, and that indelible sense of freedom pulses through EO’s journey, with hypnotic passages evoking Terrence Malick, Gaspar Noé, Michael Snow, and even the mesmeric trip beyond the infinite in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Lest this all seem too ethereal, EO returns to Earth in encounters with humans and their inevitable cruelties and kindnesses. But even Isabelle Huppert can’t steal the limelight from the six donkeys playing EO. While no shortage of recent films (Gunda, Cow) have placed an animal centre stage, none approach EO’s jaw dropping ambition. Underpinned by Pawel Mykietyn’s stellar score, Cannes 2022’s Jury Prize-winner is an essential big-screen experience. – Doug Dillaman
“Polish arthouse veteran Jerzy Skolimowski hasn’t lost his edge down the years. He directs with endless compassion but zero sentimentality.” – Philip De Semlyen, Time Out
“[Donkeys] are gentle, caring, respectful, polite, and loyal. They live to the fullest in the present moment. They never show narcissism. They do not skimp on the supposed intentions of their character; and never discuss their director's vision. They are excellent actors.” – Jerzy Skolimowski