EO provides a new perspective on human behaviour through the eyes of the titular EO, a Sardinian donkey released from a travelling circus. The film follows EO as he travels through Poland, encountering many different people going about their lives. The unconventional structure of EO may turn away some viewers as it is very much about the journey, not the destination, but I was gripped by it.
The dialogue throughout EO is sparse, however, the direction and sound design more than make up for that. EO features many natural soundscapes, from a busy farm to a post-soccer match party to a serene forest, all backed by an instrumental score that stirs our emotions with precision.
The direction of this film is one of its major draws, and deservedly so. Jerzy Skolimowski presents masterful use of framing, colour, focus, and lighting. Every shot feels specially crafted to draw our attention to a specific point, often to the dead centre, giving the film a consistent style and providing a more exciting viewing experience.
A frequently used shot in EO is a closeup of the titular donkey, with the camera hyper-focused on his head while the background is heavily blurred. This is often used in moments of great stress or anguish, and, even without any dialogue, this shot consistently tells us exactly what EO is thinking in that moment.
EO directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, 2022.
There are frequent sequences that flood the scene with an intense red light, sometimes overhead lights in a hallway that almost chase EO through the passage. Most of the time, though, this manifests as a filter that conveys a formidable sense of danger, such as a forest shrouded in mist which EO must traverse after the sun has set.
Using a red light to convey dangers seems like a very simplistic piece of colour symbolism, but the way it is implemented is often highly creative. For example, the brake lights from a motorbike are not out of place in a scene but the way the shot is framed makes it seem as if they are emanating from a person who poses a threat to EO.
Lighting is frequently used throughout the film to draw our attention to a point, move it from one point to another and set the tone for a scene. One of the most striking uses of lighting I noticed was a shot of EO standing next to a tree in the foreground, with a rocky mountainside taking up the entire background. The light moves, leaving EO and the tree in silhouette and illuminating the terrain he must traverse. The visual impact of the light transition and the framing of that particular shot left a lasting impression on me, recurring in my thoughts as one of the film’s high points.
EO explores morality and how human behaviour affects the animals around us. For example, EO is seemingly freed from a cruel circus at the beginning of the movie, but he is left yearning for the company of his trainer throughout the runtime. Without any dialogue the movie refrains from lecturing us on animal rights and instead makes us feel deeply for the plight of this donkey, feeling real fear when he is in danger, grief when he is distressed, and relief when he is safe.
I can see how the appeal of EO might be lost on some, but I hope more people give it a shot, if only for a masterclass in direction.