If You’re Depressed, This Donkey Movie Will Tip You Over the Edge
Director Jerzy Skolimowski and co-producer Ewa Piaskowska unpack the considering behind their new movie EO – “the primary message is about people’ not treating animals correctly,” they are saying
Jerzy Skolimowski has made his most electrical movie for the reason that 80s in his 80s. Directed by the 84-year-old Polish auteur with a rock ‘n’ roll punk angle, EO follows a donkey on a solo, sparse odyssey as he escapes scrapes, lands in sci-fi eventualities, and proves the medium has been losing its time with human protagonists. That includes soccer hooligans, robotic creatures, and high-end trend shoots, Skolimowski’s eighteenth function is a number of films rolled into one, all united by the ability of the donkey.
Our introduction to EO (phonetically named after its bray) is in a circus the place the four-legged particular person is personally fed carrots by a younger feminine dancer. When well-meaning animal activists shut down the sector, EO satirically loses his lifetime of luxurious: he traverses chilly, threatening landscapes looking for meals and shelter, generally prefer it’s a live-action model of The Lion King, solely to search out poisonous, violent males populating the non-circus world.
Maybe a neater option to describe EO – a nominee on the 2023 Oscars for Finest Worldwide Characteristic – is to check it to Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, an austere, black-and-white drama from 1966 through which a donkey is handed between a succession of merciless house owners. Nevertheless, EO, colourfully shot in a boxy 4:3 facet ratio and boasting a raucous digital rating, reverses a number of of Bresson’s inventive selections, at one level flooding the display screen with foreboding shades of pink to indicate a dream sequence from the donkey’s POV.
The truth is, in a resort throughout the London Movie Competition, once I consult with EO as a remake, Skolimowski insists, “It’s not near a remake. It’s not even ‘impressed’. It’s a homage, however I purposefully did all the pieces doable to make it completely different,” he says. “Bresson’s movie was an mental train,” clarifies Ewa Piaskowska, 49, a co-producer and co-writer on EO and different Skolimowski films. “That is an emotional train.”
Skolimowski and Piaskowska, who’re additionally husband and spouse, inform me that they dwell with pets in a forest in northern Poland, surrounded by wild animals and away from asphalt roads. EO, then, is their ode to non-human creatures – Piaskowska jokes that they’re “Greenpeace lovers”. Nonetheless, I’m wondering: had been they consciously or subconsciously writing about themselves in EO? “Possibly unwittingly,” says Skolimowski. “It wasn’t meant to be an autobiography. However the donkey is an outsider and form of an immigrant. There are components in widespread between the primary character and myself.”
A poet and boxer in his youth, Skolimowski went on to direct wild, unpredictable style films about outcasts – mainly donkeys in human kind. His most celebrated embrace Deep Finish (a teen boy loses his thoughts by means of unfulfilled sexual urges), The Shout (a scream is so loud, it kills those that hear it), and Moonlighting (a political satire about Poland’s Solidarity protests starring Jeremy Irons).
Nevertheless, it’s EO that stands out in Skolimowski’s filmography as an appearing masterclass. The central donkey – performed by six donkeys with separate expertise – is without doubt one of the most fascinating onscreen characters for the reason that donkey in Au Hasard Balthazar. Like a dwelling, respiratory Rorschach check, EO displays no matter advanced feelings are projected by the viewer onto its clean stare. “The donkey’s eyes are melancholic and filled with ambiguity,” says Skolimowski. “I wouldn’t name it disappointment.”
Usually, the viewer perceives the world by means of EO’s eyes. After some failed experiments with GoPro and completely different lenses, Skolimowski turned to an editorial sample: a grasp shot, a close-up of the donkey’s eyes, after which a slow-moving digicam to indicate the attitude of an animal standing nonetheless. “It’s precisely the identical set however the POV appears completely different from the grasp shot,” Skolimowski explains. “It couldn’t be described in phrases. Actuality appears completely different in a donkey’s eyes.” Piaskowska continues: “the movie is made for people, not donkeys. If you happen to had been making a movie for donkeys, it’d be necessary to have the interior lifetime of donkeys objectively proven. However we wish to transfer a human being. That’s why we use a human perspective to delve into an animal’s thoughts.”
After EO receives a violent thrashing, the movie cuts to a seemingly unrelated sequence: a four-legged robotic roaminga discipline with class to its animatronic limbs. I initially assumed it was a dream, maybe EO fantasising about possessing superhero energy. Then I heard Movie Remark’s podcast theorise that EO is, deep down, a robotic beneath its gray flesh.
Skolimowski instantly shoots down all these concepts. “The robotic is a warning to individuals,” Skolimowski says. “What’s subsequent? If we don’t maintain actual, dwelling animals, then we’ll be left with robots pretending to be animals. Don’t we want the actual expression of the eyes, the grace of animals who transfer?” The director animatedly imitates a donkey for me. “It’s a warning!” However, I observe, the robotic donkey appears like a miraculous piece of know-how and, in case you dwell in a metropolis, most likely a enjoyable toy. Skolimowski doesn’t cover his disappointment. “Possibly it’s generational. Now, younger individuals might wish to have robots. However I want them to be dwelling. I take pleasure in the fantastic thing about nature.”
In the direction of the tip of EO, there’s a shock, plate-smashing cameo from Isabelle Huppert. Effectively, it’s shocking in that it doesn’t make a lot sense throughout the story. I ask if EO was ever thought-about a parable for working throughout the movie trade, therefore the Huppert casting? “One could possibly be suspicious about that,” says Skolimowski. “However no. The foremost message is about people’ angle in direction of animals. We’re animal lovers. We step out every single day right into a wild forest to understand nature in its actual kind with out human intervention. We wished that message to achieve the widest doable viewers, and wanted a reputation so it wouldn’t be handled like some little movie from some Jap nation in an unknown language. And Isabelle Huppert has that calibre.”
Nevertheless, at Cannes, upon successful the Jury Prize, Skolimowski thanked his six donkeys by title in his acceptance speech. One was found on Fb, the opposite 5 had been first-time performers. “We at all times had veterinary help,” says Skolimowski. “We checked them initially and finish of every single day. The situations assured no hurt.” “They’re the celebrities of the movie,” provides Piaskowska. “The animals had been the actual stars.” Much more than Isabelle Huppert? “Way more.”
As for EO’s utopian life in a circus being undone by animal rights activists, Skolimowski is aware of it’s a contradiction. “People tends to make use of animals,” he sighs. “They deal with them like objects, not dwelling creatures.” “Some individuals do,” says Piaskowska. “Not all individuals.” “I might say most individuals,” says Skolimowski. “Possibly in cities,” says Piaskowska. “Not individuals with cats and canines in the home.” “Sadly, in villages, they’ve canines on chains and issues like this,” says Skolimowski. “Usually, human beings should not treating animals within the correct method, and that’s the message of this movie. This movie was made out of affection for animals.”
EO might be launched in UK cinemas from February 3. Outsiders and Exiles: The Movies of Jerzy Skolimowski runs at BFI Southbank in London from 27 March – 30 April 2023.