EO, Skolimowski’s first film in seven years, is the work of a much younger man, the product of a renaissance spirit relishing in the freedom of age and reputation. (There were even rumors that one uninformed jury member honestly thought it was the work of a young man.) How else to explain updating one of cinema’s most sacred texts? Skolimowski, along with his frequent co-writer and producer, Ewa Piaskowska, does not attempt to “remake” Bresson’s masterpiece so much as rework its central conceit for the modern era.
“Au hasard Balthazar is the most important movie for me because it’s the only one that has actually impacted me, that has deeply touched me,” Skolimowski told Télérama in 2010. In a world that has long traded innocence for cynicism, it seems fitting that this most erratic of directors would approach this project now, at a low point for morale and a precarious time for movies; the fact that EO, a formally shapeshifting, frequently wordless eco-parable, exists at all feels like a miracle.
EO begins abruptly with a scene dominated by strobing red light. A woman and a donkey emerge from the red vortex, the latter groaning in obvious anguish. “Eo!” she exclaims, as the donkey collapses at her feet. When the lights turn on, an appreciative audience can be heard and then seen. We’ve been seeing a show, an act—specifically, a circus routine; the donkey is OK.
When Jerzy Skolimowski axed his Cannes press commitments to promote his new film, EO, he denied critics and cinephiles an explanation for the festival’s most enigmatic entry. The film, a bold, modern-day reimagining of Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966), is almost designed to make you laugh, and its mysteries are part of its allure. Indeed, hearing Skolimowski comment on the film’s formation or meaning could break the film’s carefully calibrated spell. Few seem to be more aware of this than the 84-year-old Polish director, who did make an appearance at the festival’s closing ceremony to accept the Jury Prize (an award shared with Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch, co-directors of The Eight Mountains).
Skolimowski took advantage of the opportunity not to address the film’s enigma, but rather to add to it. “I’d like to thank my six donkeys,” he said. “Every single one of them.”
If Au hasard Balthazar is “the world in an hour and a half,” as Godard once declared, then EO is a glimpse of what that world might look like in the future given our current rate of indifference and inaction. ✪