EO

No relation to the old Disneyland/Michael Jackson spectacle Captain EO, this EO is a quirky but meaningful animal rights movie from Poland that wound up one of the best-reviewed pictures of 2022.

The titular character is a contented circus donkey – "EO" being a pun, like A.A. Milne's Eeyore, on the archetypal donkey bray "hee haw" – who finds himself out of a job when activists have the circus shut down. (In fact EO's gender is never specified in the film; the character is played by numerous donkeys, whose names in the credits suggest both males and females.) And so he quietly endures a series of new vocations across Poland, from the sweet (a petting zoo for disabled children) to the horrific (a truck full of horses headed for the slaughterhouse). Along the way, he observes humanity at its most corrupt and clueless, and feels a kinship with all trapped and suffering animals. He even brays out in sadness when he spies fish in a fish tank! But even as we hope good old EO turns out okay, we are made to wonder: just what place does a donkey – both literally and metaphorically – have in today's world?

So no, this is by no means a children's film, although I'm relieved to give you two important spoilers: first, EO does not die; second, although animal abuse factors into the story, it is cautiously depicted just out of frame. (The end credits begin with a promise that, in the name of animal rights, none of the film's creatures suffered any mistreatment.)

Veteran director Skolimowski, whose filmography dates back to the 1960s, displays a confident if strange mise en scène – EO is rather experimental, with several red-lit sequences that don't make much immediate sense (including one involving a four-legged robot trying to walk) but have a hypnotic appeal. It's not a crowd-pleaser per se, and it lost me a little towards the end, but it contains a lot of surprises and insights and even a couple of laughs. You won't see anything else like it, that's for sure.