He’s nothing like Shrek’s donkey, nor La Fontaine’s donkey, let alone the legendary King Midas who had equine ears. He is more simply the hero of EO (translate Hi-Han), the new film by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, 84, who is causing a stir on the Croisette with this contemporary fable shot in Poland and Italy. Consider a dive into our world seen by a Sardinian donkey, gray with white spots around the eyes. Suffice to say that in this anthropomorphic exercise, humanity appears in all its inhumanity, sometimes in its absurdity, and often in its stupidity and its wickedness.
Here is our EO that we discover in a circus, loved with all her heart by Kassandra, her tamer who knows how to whisper words in her ear and who prepares carrot cakes for her. These two are fused. Their story does not last long, alas, because of demonstrators protesting against the use of animals in circuses. Forced to abandon its protector and flee, our donkey, staring, finds itself on the roads at the mercy of chance.
We find ourselves as if by magic in his place, carried by his gaze on nature and the sound of his hooves trotting on the road and in the forest. Sublimated by a slamming soundtrack, the images collide, overlap in a sort of hallucinogenic kaleidoscope. Along the way, the donkey meets a lot of people, sees footballers fighting because they lost a match, people shouting for nothing, a fool beating him, a veterinarian treating him, goldfish vegetating in an aquarium, firefighters drag him at the end of a rope attached to their truck…
Faced with this distressing spectacle, he remains impassive, philosophical in the face of this human disorder, stoic even when he is employed to do anything: transport scrap metal, work in a thoroughbred stable or in a dog shelter from which he escapes. Here he is in a truck with horses heading for an unknown destination, the slaughterhouse perhaps, but narrowly escaping there because their driver is killed. What madness men! we read in his impassive gaze, but not fooled. Once again on the road, he meets an Italian priest in debt who takes him to a superb estate where a mysterious red-haired countess (Isabelle Huppert) reigns who makes a scene for him and breaks plates.
In this atypical film composed of images like etchings, Skolimowski takes us into a sort of animal fairyland, an implacable metaphor on our world. He does this by arousing a flood of emotions, remembering that he himself had been very moved when discovering Robert Bresson’s Random Balthazar for the first time. This EO, a kind of Cannes UFO, is a fine tribute to it.