There was a recent trend on social media where people who don’t care about movies lambasted “film bros” — a term that is often misused to mean anyone interested in watching films not made by the Disney Corporation — by claiming that it’s weird for people to enjoy thought-provoking art films instead of big-budget studio films.
These arguments often involve making up the most pretentious-sounding film ever made — my favorite is the “2 hour black and white movie about the serbian government shown through the eyes of a pigeon.” But these philistines fail to understand that they are making fools of themselves. It is not a point of pride to consume only safe, comfortable media primarily made for children instead of works of art that push boundaries and say something about the world. The pretentious films that these anti-intellectuals use to criticize people interested in art films are far more interesting than any four-quadrant blockbuster.
I know this because “EO,” a film about humanity’s cruelty told from the perspective of a donkey, is one of the most daring, moving and devastating works of art I have seen in a long time.
Much of “EO” plays like a formal exercise. To put the audience in EO’s perspective, director Jerzy Skolimowski (“11 Minutes”) shoots much of the film in “Donkeyvision” — strapping a camera to the titular donkey’s head so we see what he sees. These shots are often ugly — jaggedly framed with objects disproportionately sized — a sharp contrast from several other gorgeous compositions in the rest of the film, but this ugliness is intentional. Through EO’s eyes, we see the ugliness of the human condition.
This isn’t the film’s only daring stylistic choice. Sweeping, spinning drone shots hypnotize the viewer. A few times throughout the film, the camera seems to be just a few inches above the ground, moving in a manner that suggests it was strapped to the back of a small rodent or dog. Later, there is a strange sequence in which a tiny robot animal with a camera for a face looks like it is watching EO. This lets the viewer know how these angles were achieved but also serves as a reminder of the robotic, unfeeling way that people can treat other living things.
“EO” isn’t entirely from the donkey’s perspective, and the sequences that aren’t subjectively told through his eyes are where the film begins to struggle. As EO journeys across Europe, he comes across many characters whose stories intersect his by happenstance. Sometimes these sequences are powerful, like when EO meets the fans of a local, amateur soccer team who adore him for arriving at the field before they save a penalty kick to win a game. Hooligan fans of the opponent arrive at their victory party and beat everyone, including EO, to a pulp. The lack of remorse with which the hooligans perform these acts of violence makes it the most devastating and hardest scene in the film to watch. At other points, these human stories take the audience too far out of EO’s perspective, like a sequence with a fighting mother and son in Italy where EO isn’t even in the room. All of these sequences read as cold, detached and cruel, which can be effective in certain films, but when stripped of EO’s perspective, these vignettes aren’t nearly as moving because the emotional stakes of the scenes hinge on characters we have no attachment to.
But whenever the film returns to EO’s perspective, it is a rough, emotional experience. “EO” does an impeccable job generating empathy from its audience, something even more impressive given that the main character can’t speak. It is a testament to Skolimowski’s visual storytelling that the audience is able to know what EO feels at any given moment. “EO” is one of the best films of 2022. Anyone who thinks strange art films like this are pretentious should watch it and see how much more it moves them than the latest sterile Marvel spectacle.
Daily Arts Writer Mitchel Green can be reached at email@example.com.