Kuleshov edited a short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of Tsarist matinee idol Ivan Mosjoukine was alternated with various other shots (a bowl of soup, a girl in a coffin, a woman on a divan). The film was shown to an audience who believed that the expression on Mosjoukine's face was different each time he appeared, depending on whether he was "looking at" the bowl of soup, the girl in the coffin, or the woman on the
divan, showing an expression of hunger, grief, or desire, respectively. The footage of Mosjoukine was actually the same shot each time.
I thought about Kuloshov while watching EO, a rather picaresque film about the life of a donkey named Eo.
In Rolling Stone
, K. Austin Collins wrote that EO
"inarguably qualifies as an animal’s-eye view of all that’s warm and cruel, comical and arbitrary about human nature." He says that "The movie is always subjective," adding "the expressive, open, alert face that we encounter throughout the film feels singular. We get to know this animal, or feel like we do. We start to feel that we understand its emotions". I'd argue that the key phrase here is "feel like we do", for Jerzy Skolimowski and co-writer Ewa Piaskowska artfully convince us that we understand Eo's point of view. It's a slight of hand worthy of a superhero movie, except where those films use CGI to make marvelous things happen, Skolimowski uses Eo like Kuleshov used Mosjoukine. Full of close ups of Eo's eyes, deep and (as presented) meaningful, the film is edited (Agnieszka Glińska is the editor) to maximum effect to make us believe that, just as Superman can fly, Eo communicates to us in some fantastic, nearly indescribable way.
But, of course, EO is not seen through the eyes of the donkey, it's seen through the eyes of the film makers. Soulful as Eo's eyes are, his expression is unchanging. Skolimowski convinces us otherwise, and that is key to what makes his movie so affecting to so many people.
There is more to EO than those donkey eyes. The soundtrack is unique ... at times, aided by unusual work by cinematographer Michal Dymek, EO turns almost avant-garde in its presentation. And even if I am skeptical of the way we are supposed to read Eo's thoughts, the events that happen around the donkey are varied, at times funny, at times tragic, and always interesting. I think it's a better movie than its clear inspiration, Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar.