EO – Review. By Samhith Ankam.
Pronounce the letters E and O together, and it will sound similar to what the animal makes on the poster. With an animal that’s not domesticated enough to become a pet, nor one that takes up books that teach kids the sounds animals make, it allows a silly detail to bring us back to when we first learned onomatopoeia, but even more so, it’s representative of the ethos of Jerzy Skolimowski’s movie: To immerse into the animal experience, without a human facade to translate emotions, to talk and walk like the creatures that have to live beside us, but rarely alongside us.
This isn’t a documentary but an exercise in naturalism. The lack of internal dialogue is a stylistic choice, not one born out of necessity; all it asks for is empathy for EO, who’s continuously shoved down scenarios in the hope that he’ll see his owner, Kassandra, again. Separated from her when a circus where he performs finds itself in bankruptcy, there’s an ironic propulsion given the animal rights activists protesting in that scene from that point on – maybe there’s no escape once eyed by a human.
Every vignette holds this movie hostage for short periods of time in the human experience. Almost nonsensical, but forced detours from nature and into the concrete landscapes until they have no purpose of existing anymore. It ranges from a man hitting on a girl with no sense of boundaries to a spoiled kid who’ll never lose his position at the top, because of heirlooms and his affair with his step-mom (played with a straight face, even in absurdity, by Isabelle Huppert)
Our problems, even as genuine as can be, feel like vanity in the presence of EO, whose big black eyes pervade every scene like he’s out of his depth. There’s a sense of depression rocketing through this very slow movie, not only in a failing plight for “family,” i.e., his owner, but as being unable to respond to pain and joy with anything other than a movement of head or bray. At the party in the movie’s most “maybe there’s hope for us all” scene, all the drunk dancing is juxtaposed with EO’s big black eye – no one knows what he thinks of what’s happening, but they try to welcome him regardless. Such a lovely ask for us – to love, to give love, and not ask for any in return. Earth can hold us all, let it.
The director, Jerzy Skolimowski, often operates in the realm of pure imagery, given EO’s lack of voice, utilizing color and movement to create a mood. The uses of reds, in particular, are almost primal – the closest we get to EO’s inner state, whether that be a remembrance of why all of this matters or freedom to travel the world against the forces of humanity, even if that means to fly.
This all may all be an experiment, but it’s empathetic through its restrictive imagination, and its whimsy, if not to the level of a kids’ movie as this maybe could have been, is enough to keep this chugging along in the vein of a road-trip movie, just one to hell. A little too floaty despite it all, though.
Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, which won’t be the last award it would go on to win. But it’s not just asking for you to love *it*, but also the animals around you.
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