January 31, 2023

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How donkeys in ‘Eo’ taught director Jerzy Skolimowski to be humble and open-minded

4 min read

talking diversity By zoom from Warsaw, Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski — the director of Oscar contender “Eo” — sits on his sofa with his dog Buffon, a German Shepherd, by his side.

Buffon, or “Buffon” as Skolimowski likes to spell his name — in homage to Italian soccer player Gianluigi Buffon — is an actor who appears in the first scene of “Eo” as, in Skolimowski’s words, a “chained barking beast.” . This is the only time that Buffon has been protected by a chain. “He was very, very nervous about it,” says Skolimowski.

Skolimowski and Ewa Piaskowska – “EO’s” co-writer, producer (along with Skolimowski), and Skolimowski’s wife – lived in California for many years, but then they returned to Poland, and moved into a 19th-century hunting lodge deep in a wild forest. “We lived away from civilization, but when we left the house we enjoyed the full view of nature, with our dogs, of course, because we kept meeting wild animals – deer, rabbits, foxes… and were somehow in touch with nature. Our view of people has changed, I guess, or human nature,” says Sklimowski.

Jerzy Skolimowski

This was one of the reasons why they thought that a film “probably doesn’t need a human character as a leading man”. So, instead, they choose a donkey, the titular Yo, as their protagonist, and we follow his journey from bliss to hell, witnessing the stupidity and cruelty of mankind.

“EO” was also inspired by Robert Bresson’s “Au hasard Balthazar,” the only film that made Skolimowski cry, he says. That film also follows the life of a donkey.

A third reason for making the film this way, he says, is that having worked together on three films – “Four Nights with Anna”, “Essential Killing” and “11 Minutes” – he and Piaskowski were keen to abandon classic cinematic conventions, and try something new.

He is full of praise for the donkeys in EO’s role (there were quite a few of them, sharing the role, for goodness sake). “Some people say they are stupid, which is not true, because they are very sensitive, very intelligent animals and very gentle,” he says. It rubbed off on him, he says, and changed his attitude toward people he worked with, such as photographer Michal Dymek and composer Pavel Mykytin. Although he was quick to assert his position as a writer in previous films and was “very selfish” in “EO”, he was humble. “I have made every possible effort to be open to any suggestions from my associates,” he says.

The film is told from a donkey’s point of view and even the music helps to do that. “My instructions to Powell were: When you watch the film, please look for the moments when you can get inside the donkey’s head with your words, portraying his inner loneliness.”

Mykitin did this perfectly, says Skolimowski. “Music has made for a very successful substitute for dialogue. It allowed the audience to identify with the animal, and that was one of the hardest parts of that job.”

As mentioned earlier, the donkey acts as a kind of witness to the abominable behavior of mankind as he innocently observes various strange aspects of modern society. “We look at people through the eyes of animals, who do not judge or comment. They have this very specific sad look, which can be interpreted in different ways, because it doesn’t show anger or joy or any kind of reaction. It’s vague enough to give the audience their own interpretation of how the creature looks at the humans and how it’s judging them.”

“EO” (courtesy of Aneta Philippe Gebsi)

On the other hand, “human stories [in the film] Minimal reductions are made, as they are quite obvious,” he explains. “These are depictions of common human emotions: anger, love, jealousy, etc. And therefore, they were treated in a completely minimalist manner – almost reduced to vignettes. Then, interpreting the meaning of those scenes, the whole mental concentration was devoted to the donkey.”

He added: “It is quite clear that this film was made out of love for animals and love for nature. If I were a pop singer, I might call it a ‘protest song’. It is certainly critical to human behavior towards animals. Protest would be extreme opposition to almost barbaric human activity. Like industrial farming. We know the condition of those animals. It is a form of barbarism, and is still allowed in many countries, where I believe it should be outlawed for cruelty to animals.”

He said: “It makes me ashamed that, in a certain way, I am part of the system. Although, I must say that subconsciously, when we were starting to work on the script, we reduced our meat consumption. We are not yet vegetarians, unfortunately, but We’re a good way towards that stage. We’ve reduced our meat consumption by probably more than two-thirds, and I have to add the fact that while we were shooting the film, half of my crew stopped eating meat. So, I believe that this The effect is somehow spreading to at least a section of the audience for ‘EO’ and if that can be one of the effects of this film, it will be the biggest reward and the biggest achievement for making this film.”

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