“What if this movie was just a donkey thrown green on a pile of Koyaanisqatsi– look at pictures? I joked with a friend as the lights went down for Polish master Jerzy Skolimowski’s new film, eo. It wasn’t, but honestly, I wasn’t as far as I thought. Billed (in the media, at least) as a remake of Robert Bresson’s 1966 classic Random balthazar, the 84-year-old latest film offers one of the most drastic updates to this movie imaginable. Between sacrilege and homage (Skolimowski is a notorious fan of Bresson, even if his work has rarely shown its influence), eo is an epic, expressive and whimsical odyssey into the primitive viscera of Balthazarthe inheritance.
A deeply spiritual portrait of the titular donkey, Balthazar is also the text that its author most explicitly links to his beginnings as an action painter (“So on my canvas a multitude of structures burst, each with its own dialectic”, says a man with an easel strapped to his back). With eo, Skolimowski is aiming for an even more volatile and irruptive classification. The film begins in a circus – filtered, as so many later images of the film are, in a feverish red – where Eo (played by a sextet of donkeys: Hola, Tako, Marietta, Ettore, Rocco and Mela) is introduced in it appears to be a vaudeville performance with a young woman named Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska). Deeply saturated and shot in layered close-ups and aerial shots, the intro is surprisingly overwhelming – not for the empathy it generates towards these images of an animal devoid of agency, but simply as cinema – and from from there, the film rarely lets go.
A sin Balthazar, Eo spends the film changing owners, trying to get out of one unpleasant situation only to find himself in another equally pitiful and abusive one. Like the vegan-friendly message that Skolimowski ultimately emphasizes in the film’s home stretch, the nature of each situation doesn’t matter; even Eo’s initial caregiver, Kasandra, is a non-factor, appearing perhaps once after the opening sequence, thus abandoning any narrative anchor analogous to Marie (Anne Wiazemsky) in Bresson’s original. The transitions between episodes are the real draw here, and they’re mostly dizzy. An overt homage to Eadweard Muybridge ties the film to the cinema’s pre-linguistic “attractions” mode, and dialogue is generally kept to a minimum, with most speech restricted to people calling out the name Eo – a name that is not not even a name, but rather the onomatopoeic cry of a donkey for who-knows-what. (The film’s French title, “Hi-Han,” is perhaps a better expression of the animal’s characteristic hee-haw.) Thus, Eo is a creature devoid of singularity or subjectivity of any kind, replacing a its meaningless.
eoThe engagement of with silent sounds and images is Brakhagian at heart: metaphors for the senses, visions of the world before words. Wide-angle, tapered-edge POV shots depict much of Eo’s journey, while drone shots over crimson forests take us to another elsewhere – zooming in on the trees before turning around. same rhythm as the blades of a wind turbine, a moment so striking (and, in the context of a Bresson remake, ridiculous) that I almost burst into tears. Just as Bresson pleads his tools on the last page of Notes on cinematography (“Camera and tape recorder, take me away from intelligence, which complicates everything”), Skolimowski delivers a film that feels like a process of unknowing, an anxious attempt to defamiliarize its audience with order, morality and capital . As a football fan yells while freeing Eo midway through the film, “Anarchy reigns!”
by Mark Jenkins Enys Men is the Cornish filmmaker’s sixth feature, and first since his semi-escape, Bait (2019). I didn’t see any, but I knew he was a hardware-driven director who tends to work in 16mm which he processes by hand. Set in 1973, Enys Men (Cornish for “Stone Island” and pronounced – if I remember correctly – AYN-is Mayn) is an image film imbued with a kind of dense, thick film grain that you can find for example in the work of Ben Rivers or Samuel M. Delgado & Helena Girón. The primary colors truly bleed from the screen when we look at a woman (British TV actress Mary Woodvine, also in Bait) after arriving to observe an unusual flower that appeared on the island. Just as the grain of the image never lets you forget you’re looking at an image, the visible sound work borders on cartoonish, with isolated radio noise, footsteps and creaking of doors amplified to the point where they become haptics. Zooms and infinite depth of field are also taken advantage of, destabilizing our sense of scale. (Woodvine tends to walk straight into the frame as if she were a giant, her boots being way too big compared to the other objects in the frame.)
The woman dons a red riding hood raincoat as she inspects the threadlike, daisy-like flora each day, recording her thoughts in a notebook (“No Change,” over and over again), and mysteriously and ritually dropping a single stone into a well. In her spare time, she reads books by Edward Goldsmith. A survival plan, an environmental text published a year before the shooting of the film which argues, among other things, that reducing the size of a community is an ideal method to reduce the environmental impact, especially of businesses. As “changes” begin to register in the form of lichen and a lost 1897 supply boat becomes a prominent detail in the narrative, the film turns into a trance movie psychodrama in the spirit of Maya Deren. Afternoon stitches (1943). Occult figures arrive on the scene, and we are treated to J-horror panics and a heartbreaking score that crescendos without warning or reason. (That’s when I was no longer completely fazed by NEON’s decision to pick up the film for distribution earlier this week.) Jenkin’s thesis regarding the environment and contamination slowly comes to light and remains ultimately secondary to the film’s more material pleasures, allowing the experience to effectively get under the skin.