It is still a Tuesday but a lull before a humongous Box Office storm which is scheduled for tomorrow in the form of Pathaan. The buzz and the advance bookings are great and the return of King Khan only adds to the overall hoopla. And while I am looking forward to it, I decided to squeeze in another film from the International Circuit. With that I finished watching the new Polish film EO which is Poland’s official entry to the Academy Awards this year. The film is still in the race while finding a place in the Top 15 that did make me curious on what the film had to offer. I was really intrigued by the poster of the film which did seem like a warm storing featuring an animal. But little did I know what to make of the film. So then does EO manage to impress, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
EO follows the story of a donkey which is more in the mould of a life story wherein he sees and perceives the world through his eyes. But a word of caution, if you are expecting a heartwarming Disneyisque tale of the relationship between the animal and humans, this was is bound to shock you. The proceedings are dark and grim almost reminiscent of the film Au Hasard Balthazar which is regarded one of the great films of all times. The screenplay standing at just 84 minutes(including end credits) is taut and compelling. This section shall contain spoilers.
The most important feature of the drama is the protagonist itself – a furry animal with a grey skin and such soulful eyes which could peep and penetrate right through your soul. There is a sense of kindness to the donkey, almost like a spirit searching for love and care in a world which seemed to be oblivious of the same. The same could be made out in its opening sequence wherein the little donkey, once born in a circus, is now an important member of the crew and has his caretaker for company – probably the only selfless love he would ever get in his life. Soon the circus finds itself in the middle of bankruptcy and coupled with the objection of the animal welfare rights activists, he is separated from his trainer.
From this point, if you are expecting a fairy tale kind of story with the donkey eventually finding a way to meet his caretaker, then you would be in for a mighty shock. Because the proceedings are silently tense and quite disturbing. In a terrific scene wherein the donkey finds himself in the jungle, he has a few other creatures for company – the owl staring at it endlessly, a pack of wolves rushing through the forest which is surrounded by murmurs. The noises are silenced by a gunshot from the hunters that does put a love of things into perspective. The fear is palpable as the kindness and softness in the eyes of the donkey are met with fear, probably the first time in his young life.
The writing is subtle yet unabashed and unapologetic that highlights the plight of the humans with respect to animals. While not all humans are cruel, the relationship that most humans share is that either of ignorance or cruelty and selfishness. So either the poor animal, in this case the donkey, is completed ignored on the streets of Poland(with people not bothered on whether the animal is hungry or thirsty, a stark contrast to the carrot necklace that it once had), or the little animal is taken to places for personal gains. In a moving and searing scene, the donkey is witness to electrocution of various animals at a fur farm. The silence in this scene was deafening and fearful, especially since the viewer was experiencing the proceedings from the perspective of the donkey.
In a separate scene, the donkey is a victim of hate after a local winning football team is attacked by the members of the opposition. The winning team had believed the donkey(who had suddenly appeared on a football field in a tense situation) to be their lucky mascot. The first person view of the donkey being beaten up was terrifying as the mute victim couldn’t even retaliate. But life does offer the donkey some hope too. On a bus journey, he does watch a set of horses running through the streets, a symbol of liberty and freedom which almost felt that the spirits of both animals were synonymous with each other, but torn apart by fate. The final act though does paint a different picture that had be pondering and thinking about it, long after the film had ended. It was powerful, dark and disturbing although it wasn’t altogether unexpected. The film does act as a mirror to all human beings and their behavior towards animals. The animal lover in me was left scarred and scathed.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues here are minimal and that does add to the atmosphere of the drama which is focused towards the mute protagonist, the donkey. The BGM is dramatic and does stir up so many emotions within you. The cinematography is perhaps one of the best that I have seen in recent times. The bold use of colours, especially shades of red either depicting danger or anger was so well integrated. The broad strokes did paint a grim picture but visually quite stunning at the same time. Additionally, the first person view was a disturbing frame in itself. Director Jerzi Skolimowsky handles this delicate subject in a rather brave manner. He does opt for a lesser taken route which is grim and dark and far from being a fairy tale. And this is what sets the films apart, something for which the director deserves distinction marks!
The performances are quite good here. Sandra Drzymalska as Kasandra is sincere, Lorenzo Zurzolo as Vito is first rate and all other actors do a good job. But you don’t have many films wherein the humans play a supporting role with the protagonist being an animal. So here EO essayed by 6 donkeys is such an endearing character that your sympathies also lie with it.
EO is a dark and submissive take on animal cruelty that does make for a soul-stirring watch. This drama does come with my highest recommendation.