HE HAS EYES like lamplights: big and bright. He cries vocally when he is very sad. And sniffs when he’s feeling miserable. You can see the tears staining his face. His emotions take him away from peccadilloes like carrots from human hands. This is Eo, a small grey donkey, and the eponymous film, directed by Jerzy Skolimowski features on this year’s European Film Festival, which is online and at cinemas in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, between 12 and 22 October, in eSwatini between 20 and 22 October and Lesotho between 26 and 28 October.
Eo is a mesmerising work which will play relentlessly and hauntingly with your emotions. If you have a soft spot in your heart for animals, it is a film which is often very difficult to watch and represents a huge achievement from a filmic perspective. Some of the stills are so heartbreaking, just in terms of the creature’s hopeless vulnerability and candid beauty in a scary, cruel dangerous world, that you don’t want to look and will not be able to forget. A reflection on the horrors of human behaviour and the assumptions that humans make about the comfort and needs of creatures without the gift of human discourse, Eo occasionally teeters and slips into those very same judgements.
Do we really know what an animal feels and what it may want? Eo is heavily peppered with anthropomorphic clichés which imbue this beautiful donkey with emotions and a moral centre which might be just the ticket to get us, with our soft hearts to watch it. Or not. He’s a sentient being, stripped by do-gooders from his life where he is loved, albeit within the spotlight of a circus.
The work is cluttered with narrative red herrings which offer Black Mirror-evocative cameos of humanity: one sees Isabelle Huppert as a rich, destructive and immoral woman; another, an indestructible automaton with four legs; and a third, the violent end of a violent man trading in horse meat. It’s a gory reflection on how revolting human beings can really be, and aims, like works of the ilk of Sheila Burnford’s 1961 novel The Incredible Journey, or Stray, a film about stray dogs in Turkey which featured on the Encounters Documentary Film Festival in 2021, to look at life, the universe and everything, through a donkey’s eyes. Or through the eyes of a human writer and director filtered by their love for donkeys.
You will need a box of tissues and a heart of steel to watch this work from beginning to end and you will constantly need to remind yourself that it is fictional and not a documentary or necessarily true foray into either donkeys or human beings and their money-making ways. It’s one of those works that will stay with you, possibly forever, given the astonishingly gorgeous donkey cast and how they are filmed.
- Eo is directed by Jerzy Skolimowski and features a cast headed by (donkey cast) Ettore, Hola, Marietta, Mela, Tako and Rocco; and (human cast) Wojciech Andrzejuk, Waldemar Barwinski, Lolita Chammah, Fernando Junio Gomes da Silva, Marcin Drabicki, Sandra Drzymalska, Saverio Fabbri, Isabelle Huppert, Gloria Iradukunda, Aleksander Janiszewski, Krzysztof Karczmarz, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Mateusz Muranski, Tomasz Organek, Michal Przybyslawski, Anna Rokita, Katarzyna Russ, Agata Sasinowska, Maciej Stepniak, Piotr Szaja, Andrzej Szeremeta, Delfina Wikonska and Lorenzo Zurzolo. Written by Ewa Piaskowska and Jerzy Skolimowski, it is produced by Ewa Piaskowska and Jerzy Skolimowski and features creative input by Pawel Mykietyn (music), Michal Dymek (cinematography), Agnieszka Glinska (editing), Jorgelina Depetris Pochintesta and Paulina Krajnik (casting), Roberta Amodio and Miroslaw Koncewicz (production design) and Katarzyna Lewinska (costumes). In English, Italian, French and Polish with English subtitles, it is part of the 10th European Film Festival South Africa, screening at The Zone in Rosebank Johannesburg, The Labia in Cape Town, Gateway in Durban and online from 12-22 October, with satellite programmes in eSwatini from 20-22 October and in Lesotho from 26 to 28 October.