One of the classics of French cinema is Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar. Fifty-six years later, 84-year-old Jerzy Skolimowski has remade Au hasard Balthazar as EO. The Bresson original followed the life of a donkey from birth to its unfortunate death. Bresson used the donkey’s travels through the world of humans to portray such themes as good, evil and attempted redemption.
In Skolimowski’s version (co-written by Ewa Piaskowska), the donkey has more of a personality, albeit a donkey one rather than a human one. Eo’s early life is skipped, and we meet him for the first time while he is working in a circus, where he performs in a ring with a dancer, Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska). She loves Eo and takes good care of him. But when animal rights activists accuse the circus of mistreating animals (as well as financial transgressions), the circus is shut down. Eo is transferred to a ranch that specializes in thoroughbreds. These horses are pampered, while Eo is reduced to hauling carts for his keep. But then, his life looks up again because he is transferred to a farm that serves as a petting zoo for children with disabilities. Eo is loved and appreciated. Kasandra tracks him down and visits. When she leaves, Eo escapes and searches for her.
From here on, Eo goes through a variety of experiences, most of them bad. This includes a truck driver who treats him well, but is murdered. The most memorable occurs when Eo wanders into a tense football (soccer) match between rival teams. Just as a penalty kick is being taken, he brays loudly and the kicker misses, giving the match to the opposing team. The winning team considers Eo a hero and takes him along for a drunken celebration in a tavern. The losing team attacks the winners, including Eo, who ends up in a veterinary hospital.
There is one segment that seems out-of-place. Eo enters an estate where a countess is having an affair with her stepson. The countess is played by Isabelle Huppert, which may explain why the scene was added.
By the way, the role of Eo is played by six different donkeys.
Jerzy Skolimowski directed his first feature film in 1965. EO is his eighteenth feature, in a career that included a 17-year break. The one that stands out for me is Essential Killing (2010) which exposes Poland’s role in U.S. President George W. Bush’s international program of secret prisons and torture centers.