When Cannes announced its competition lineup a few weeks ago, the big surprise was Jerzy Skolimowski’s Eo. Few were expecting a contemporary reimagining of Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966) from the eighty-four-year-old director of Le départ (1967), Deep End (1970), and Essential Killing (2010)—especially since he hadn’t made a feature since 2015’s 11 Minutes. “In its conception—as an existential musing on man’s inhumanity to man, endurance of suffering, and capacity for grace across the blink of a lifespan—as well as in the outline of several of its scenes, Eo is an incredible and unlikely act of hubris,” writes Mark Asch at Little White Lies.
It’s also the picaresque journey of a donkey named for the sound it honks from a Polish circus to a horse farm, a soccer field, a pub, and eventually, up and over the Alps to Italy. Skolimowski offers, as Asch puts it, “sketch-comical views of Polish nationalism and machismo, EU migration, the legacy of the Holocaust, and bourgeois decadence in the form of a vampish stepmother played by an unexpected cinematic legend.”
At the Film Verdict, Clarence Tsui, one of the few critics Eo has left cold, finds that it amounts to little more than “brief, random vignettes which fail to ignite or engage.” But for most, like Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter, the film is “an engrossing experience.” Working with cinematographer Mychal Dymek, Skolimowski is “unleashed,” writes David Katz at the Film Stage, “an auteur completely off the chain, devising a spectacular new language for showing a non-human way of seeing on screen, building on the work of Godfrey Reggio in Koyaanisqatsi and the immersive anthropology of the Harvard SEL (which birthed 2012’s great Leviathan).”
Catherine Bray also credits editor Agnieszka Glinska, “who has form in this field (she also cut Valdimar Jóhannsson’s excellent Lamb), and who keep things brisk and pacy—this is certainly one of those films where one could have too much of a good thing, but at eighty-six minutes, you’re never less than engaged.” Dispatching to Filmmaker,Blake Williams finds that Eo’s “engagement with speechless sounds and images is Brakhagian at heart: metaphors for senses, views of the world before words . . . Just as Bresson pleads to his tools on the last page of Notes on Cinematography (‘Camera and tape recorder, carry me far away from intelligence, which complicates everything’), Skolimowski has delivered a film that feels like a process of unknowing—an anxious attempt to defamiliarize its audience from order, morality, and capital.”
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