EO-Kritik - ein unschuldiger Esel weist den Weg in einer surrealen, von Bresson inspirierten Fahrt

Life is seen through the eyes of a put-upon beast of burden in this beautifully photographed homage to Au Hasard Balthazar by the veteran Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski

Jerzy Skolimowski is the celebrated veteran director who first came to Cannes in 1972 with King, Queen, Knave starring Gina Lollobrigida and David Niven; now he has returned to the festival competition with a winter’s tale of a film, inspired by Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar from 1966. I’m not sure this is my favourite Skolimowski film, but it is engaging in many ways: beautifully photographed, sentimental and surreal in equal measure; and also stubborn – as stubborn as its hero – in its symbolism and stark pessimism.

Like Bresson, Skolimowski makes his lead a donkey, the beast that carried the Virgin Mary to Bethlehem and Jesus into Jerusalem. Skolimowski calls his animal “EO” – after its braying “eee-ohhh” sound. The place is present-day Poland, but the setting could almost be Europe at any time in the last few centuries. EO is being worked in a circus act but has to be let go because of legislation about using animals in this way. He winds up in a donkey sanctuary from which he is freed, then captured in the streets by a council worker for whose football team EO becomes a mascot. But, then he is beaten by hooligans supporting the opposing team, captured by a gang trading in illicit horse- and donkey-meat, and finally rescued by a troubled young aristocrat whose haughty and devout mama (a tasty cameo for Isabelle Huppert) disapproves of her son’s louche gambling ways.