Jerzy Skolimowski is the celebrated veteran director who first got here to Cannes in 1972 with King, Queen, Knave starring Gina Lollobrigida and David Niven; now he has returned with a winter’s story of a movie, impressed by Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar from 1966. I’m undecided that is my favorite Skolimowski movie, however it’s participating in some ways: fantastically photographed, sentimental and surreal in equal measure; and likewise cussed – as cussed as its hero – in its symbolism and stark pessimism.
Like Bresson, Skolimowski makes his lead a donkey, the beast that carried the Virgin Mary to Bethlehem and Jesus into Jerusalem. Skolimowski calls his animal “EO” – after its braying “eee-ohhh” sound. The place is present-day Poland, however the setting might nearly be Europe at any time in the previous couple of centuries. EO is being labored in a circus act however needs to be let go due to laws about utilizing animals on this manner. He winds up in a donkey sanctuary from which he’s freed, then captured within the streets by a council employee for whose soccer staff EO turns into a mascot. However then he’s overwhelmed by hooligans supporting the opposing staff, captured by a gang buying and selling in illicit horse- and donkey-meat, and eventually rescued by a troubled younger aristocrat whose haughty and religious mama (a tasty cameo for Isabelle Huppert) disapproves of her son’s louche playing methods.
And on a regular basis, EO observes and witnesses, his innate humility and dignity rising above crass human self-importance and greed. Or, is that what is going on? The movie invitations us to ask whether it is significant to attribute these traits to EO. He doesn’t take part in any facet of our moralising human comedy. The donkey maintains his innocence, however what alternative does he have in that matter? How would a donkey with out innocence behave? He’s, in any case, merely a beast of burden. His standpoint and his consciousness are mysteries. However maybe an alien life kind, as far above people as we’re above donkeys, would regard us in the identical manner. And EO’s easy presence on display is uncanny – this animal isn’t appearing; it’s being itself. However, then, maybe we people are deluding ourselves once we suppose that we are able to remodel ourselves by the artwork of appearing, or some other artwork.
Skolimowski asks us to consider all this: and for all that there’s something a bit of sugary within the film, it’s poignant and distinctive.