On this members only podcast episode, we discuss the film Eo, Jerzy Skolimowski’s visually and aurally inventive film, as well as creating empathy for animals on screen in this film and its cinematic antecedents.
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How does a film create empathy for a donkey and give a donkey the appearance of a full emotional inner-life? To answer this question, Associate Editor Dr. Brett “Empathy” Pardy joins us. In particular, we discuss Jerzy Skolimowski’s Eo, a visually and aurally inventive film about injustice in the animal world seen through the eyes of a donkey.
We also compare Eo to other recent films about (or featuring) animals, including White God, Lean on Pete, Cow, and Gunda. And we discuss how some of the best politically conscious films being made today, with youthful exuberance, are coming from directors over 70.
This episode features Editor-in-Chief Alex Heeney, Executive Editor Orla Smith, as well as Associate Editor Dr. Brett Pardy.
About the free podcast excerpt on ‘exceptional donkeys’ and Eo
In this excerpt, we discuss whether Eo is presented as an “exceptional” animal in the film. Many films about animals are about exceptional animals, such as Air Bud the golden retriever who can play basketball or Okja the superpig. In many ways, Skolimowski’s film bucks convention here by making Eo a fairly normal donkey whose experiences (and the way he’s depicted) render him a subject of interest rather than because he’s a particularly special donkey.
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On this members only podcast episode on the film Eo
- 01:51 Why are we talking about Eo?
- 09:18 Placing Eo within the canon of donkey stories
- 13:53 Exceptional donkeys (This section is excerpted for free)
- 32:00 Anthropomorphising animals
- 46:56 An older generation of political filmmakers
Show Notes on the podcast on the film Eo
- Become a member for access to all of our upcoming episodes
- Listen to our first podcast season on Women at Cannes
- Read Alex Heeney’s review of Eo, which also serves as an introduction to the episode
- Get your copy of our ebook on Lean on Pete, a film about an unexceptional horse
- Read Alex Heeney’s White God interview with the film’s director and animal trainer
- Get your copy of our ebook Road to nowhere: Kelly Reichardt’s broken American dreams. It features an interview with the First Cow and Lean on Pete animal trainer.
- Watch the 2009 Sam Mendes Charlie Rose interview referenced in the episode. He discusses the differences between directing film and theatre
Get the ebook to read our in-depth interview with the animal trainer behind Lean on Pete and First Cow
Roads to nowhere: Kelly Reichardt’s broken American dreams is an ebook that will take you on a journey through Reichardt’s filmography.
It’s also the only place you can find interviews with her and all her collaborators, which together reveal Reichardt’s filmmaking process like never before. This includes an interview with animal trainer Lauren Henry on how you get animals to act.
- Ep. 11: Mike Leigh’s Peterloo (Free) – on the film and what we learned about Leigh’s process and the film from writing the book Peterloo in process: A Mike Leigh collaboration
- Ep. 32: Sorry We Missed You and Peterloo (Members only) – we discuss creating empathy for characters navigating an unjust world
- Ep 93: The films of Agnieszka Holland (Members Only) – we discuss Europa Europa, Washington Square, and Charlatan and how Holland depicts life under totalitarian states (which has similarities what Eo experiences as a lower class donkey)
- Ep. 104: Agnieszka Holland on directing (Members Only) – an in-depth interview with the director about bucking convention from early on in her career, and how she continues to do so now
- Ep. 7: Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete (Free) – we discuss the film and its depiction of an unexceptional horse, as well as insights gleaned from our ebook on the film (Lean on Pete: A Special Issue), including how it was made
Episode (excerpt) transcript
The transcript for the free excerpt of this episode is AI-generated by Otter.ai.
Orla Smith 0:17
You're listening to a short free clip from the full episode of this members only episode of the seven day podcast. Most episodes of our podcasts are members only. We're providing this little preview of the full episodes so that you can get a taste of what membership would give you. As well as getting access to our podcast archive, you'll also get to all the content we produce for our podcast feed, covering new releases and beyond.
On this episode myself, Orla Smith, my co-host, Alex Heeney and associate editor Dr. Brett Pardy sat down to discuss the new Polish film EO, which premiered in competition at Cannes earlier this year, where it tied for the jury prize. It's a bit of a road movie about an unfortunate donkey's journey from owner to owner, which recalls Au hasard Balthazar, but it's also very different in a lot of ways we discussed in the episode. We found the film [Eo] to be really thoughtful and thought it deserved a longer discussion, especially in the context of other films about animals.
In this episode, we chat a lot about the depiction of Eo the donkey and how it stands out from most films about animals. What you're listening to now is a short free clip from the full episode. We picked out the section of the episode where we talk about how most films about animals ask us to care about the animal because they are exceptional, and why it's meaningful that Eo avoids that trap. But in the full episode, you'll hear our whole conversation in which we talk about that as well as placing EO within the canon of donkeys stories. And we talked about how filmmakers anthropomorphize animals. And we also chat through the phenomenon of older filmmakers making exceptionally politically rigorous and inspired cinema just like the 80-something behind Eo, Jerzy Skolimowski. To listen to the whole episode, as well as our other podcast content, become a member at seven gastro.com/join. And enjoy a whole host of other perks.
It is quite striking to find out that Eo is played by so many different donkeys because you do really like become so attached to him as a character that it feels almost inconceivable that like the person that I'm projecting or this or that person, the donkey that I'm projecting on this, all this different all these different emotions on two are actually like six completely separate animals. And it was a testament to like the way in which they they wrangle the donkeys
Alex Heeney 2:47
like what are the donkey union laws in Poland? Can they only work for a couple of hours? Like?
Brett Pardy 2:55
It kind of goes against the stereotype of donkeys? You can work them too late. But I think it actually speaks to how usually an animal films were expected to empathize with an animal because it's exceptional. And here it's like, yeah, they're just interchangeable donkey. Narrative is the narratives. Yeah, it's one but in reality, there was six of them. Well, you didn't notice. So you should empathize with all of them. Well, okay.
Alex Heeney 3:22
But which is interesting, because when we were talking about comparisons to like, lean on P and first cow and Brett, you have interviewed the animal trainer who cast the cow in first cow and cast the horse in lean on Pete. And apparently that was quite a process. And certainly in lean on Pete, the film is about how the horse is just the horse. And yet, we had to have the right horse.
Brett Pardy 3:51
I think Lean on Pete is a exception to the animal. I remember saying to you when I first saw it, it's like, it's like, wow, I can tell this wasn't an American director because there's nothing romantic about the horse.
Alex Heeney 4:05
I think that's why people didn't like to film either as they were like, expecting it to be the story of a horse and his boy and then it was like, No,
Brett Pardy 4:12
He's just projecting onto a horse.
Alex Heeney 4:17
Yeah. And people didn't like that. They weren't allowed to do that without being wrong in the film.
Brett Pardy 4:23
All horses have rights. They don't need to be exceptional.
Orla Smith 4:27
But that's a good that's a good question is to what extent is EO presented as x an exceptional animal in the film?
Alex Heeney 4:35
I mean, he we meet him as sort of, he's treated as like the star of this show.
Brett Pardy 4:42
He's a trained donkey, but
Alex Heeney 4:45
but I don't think he's like, like, once he you know, he goes around and gets mistreated in various places you're not like, but yo could be traveling the world selling out shows and look what they've done to him! You're just kind of like, yeah, people are pretty horrible to him. And it was kind of horrible in the circus, but it sure looks good now,
Orla Smith 5:07
And he has like a few moments of, you know, heroism. Like when he like kicks that guy. It's just like it's just like, I mean, he's been through some shit. Like he's, he's bound to be angry at this point. The final scene I find very interesting, because you have EO in this crowd of cows heading to the slaughter. And you're like, how is no one noticing that there's a little donkey? The donkey looks quite different to the cows. Eo is not supposed to be there. He's not supposed to like be going to die. Which is a thought that I had. And then kind of felt bad about because I was like, well, what about all those cows? And how do we know that all these cows haven't had like a little life story like Eo has?
Brett Pardy 6:00
It's because we've prevented them from having one.
Orla Smith 6:02
Yeah, exactly. And so the fact that Eo does stand up so much in that crowd, it's why it reminded me of Okja because it does end with a similar scene where the superpig is going to slaughter with the other superpigs and is actually saved.
Brett Pardy 6:19
Only because of like a pure business transaction of like ah, yeah, okay, that's worth more.
Orla Smith 6:23
But what I would what what I like although I still like about the ending of Okja is that the film intentionally ends like on a note of we're allowed to feel triumphant that okja didn't die, but then there's like a sombre beat afterwards of like, but does that mean that we shouldn't care that all these like other hundreds and hundreds of superpigs died? And I feel like EO left me with a similar effect, but also kills the donkey, which made me also extremely even more sad.
Brett Pardy 6:53
Yeah, I love the end of Okja and how the one exceptional animal story doesn't actually change the system. Yeah, that, like in a conventional narrative, you've have a happy ending, but really, for the overall societal impact, nothing changed.
Alex Heeney 7:07
I mean, I do think Okja is a good comparison here, too, because it's, it's kind of a fantastical film. Let's just look at Jake Gyllenhaal is performance, for example.
Orla Smith 7:20
Alex Heeney 7:20
Uh, yeah. That was the opportunity for you, Orla. But all these other movies about animals tend to be in a very naturalistic — well, White God isn't but — like, Lean on Pete or when do you Lucy or Cow, or, you know, these documentaries, they're all intended to be naturalistic and put you in a realist space. EO is regularly deliberately sort of going on these...it's not that it's not realist...it's just that like the lighting is so the lighting and the sound, it feels like, like a spectacle in a way that these other films are not intended as spectacle, but I would definitely say Okja is intended as spectacle.
Brett Pardy 8:09
Eo reminds me a lot of a lot of 50s European films that are not they're not realistic by any sense of the word. Yeah. But they're not. They're kind of metaphorically realistic. They're grounded in a recognisable reality, but they're just visually and plot-wise. Very expressive.
Alex Heeney 8:31
Do you have particular films in mind?
Brett Pardy 8:33
I'm thinking a lot of French films from the 1950s are like this. A lot of Jean Renoir films are like this. Oh, yeah. So yeah, a lot of Marcel Carne films. There's a French movement called poetic realism, which I think this sort of fits in that a mix, right, kind of in the title of poetic realism. Like, you wouldn't say this isn't real. But you'd also get the sense that, well, this is awfully convenient for how reality works.
Alex Heeney 9:00
Yeah. It's sort of like Powell and Pressburger, in that sense, almost,
Brett Pardy 9:04
like there's nothing in Eo that couldn't happen, but it's extremely unlikely it would all happen.
Orla Smith 9:11
Yeah, yeah. And also to clarify, like, like, visually what we're talking about for the listener, like, there are often sequences. I mean, there are a lot of it is shot in a more sort of realist way, although kind of like on the level of the donkey in a way we don't often see. But also, there are often these sequences with like, very stark red lighting, which again, are presented in a way where like, that could technically be the lighting of the scene, but it's also kind of a surreal presentation.
Alex Heeney 9:38
yeah, it opens like that with the show at the circus, but you don't quite know that, like you sort of know what's going on
Brett Pardy 9:43
It takes several minutes to reveal it's a circus act.
Alex Heeney 9:45
Yeah. At first, you're just kind of like wow, red lights. And there's like a closeup of a donkey and a closeup of a woman, and they seem to be like
Brett Pardy 9:55
Alex Heeney 9:55
But you have no idea like where the context is really until you sort of start hearing the crowds. And then
Brett Pardy 10:01
I love the scene where he's in the forest and the hunters scopes turn it into kind of like this rave going on.
Orla Smith 10:08
Yeah, and I think I find it a very effective way to kind of just get in the head of this, this animal that isn't necessarily like thinking through things very intellectually, but it has very visceral, like, immediate emotional reactions of like, panic, etc. And it, it felt and I felt like that kind of like very stark red and often, like flashing lighting, felt like a good way to vote that.
Alex Heeney 10:31
It's a clever solution to making the film not boring, but not in a way that doesn't make sense. Like, like there's a visually visual logic or a stylistic logic to what they're doing. It's not just like, random cool shot, because I think you might be bored now. And it kind of helps to make... I think this also goes back to your question of like, is Eo exceptional. And I think the way that the film is shot, kind of makes him feel exceptional because he gets these these shots that feel kind of epic, like there's this really striking scene, which, where he's crossing like the bridge next to a waterfall.
Brett Pardy 11:17
It suddenly turns into a shot that looks like it's out of like Lord of the Rings.
Alex Heeney 11:21
And not a not. Yeah, I mean, you said it, Brett. It feels
Brett Pardy 11:29
like this heroic epic journey or this tiny bridge over a waterfall.
Orla Smith 11:34
Yeah, I mean, and the music has so that really like majestic. It gives Eo a grander inner emotional life.
Alex Heeney 11:43
That I mean, the same thing is true the sound like we get, there's there's a lot in the film about what things, what sounds, get highlighted and what sounds we don't hear. When EO first gets taken away from the circus, there's a loud bang of the door to the truck that he's in. We don't hear the crowds. We don't hear everything else. But we do hear at least really distinctly what we hear is the loud bang of the of the door and then we hear like EO's breathing really loudly. And so then that creates a certain emotion.
But I think to your point, Orla, about, like why in what ways is he exceptional, I've been thinking about this as we've been talking is that, like is he exceptional or not? I think a lot of films that we tell where we tell stories that are ostensibly about animals, Tte reason we are given to care about the animal is because the animal means something to a person. Like what makes them special. I mean, this is true of like, especially you think of like any movie that's about dogs, right? Like, I mean Air Bud is special because he can play basketball, but also but also like the reason we love Air Bud is because Air Bud loves the boy and the boy loves Air Bud.
In Wendy and Lucy, there's nothing really special about Lucy except the she's Wendy's only friend. So everything that's tragic that happens to Lucy, we feel something tragic that's happening to Wendy. And I mean, there is some separation because Wendy has to make choices to give Lucy a better life that she can't give Lucy — Lucy being her dog. Sorry. I'm just like making assumptions about people having seen Kelly Reichardt films, which I absolutely should not be doing. You should see them though.
Brett Pardy 13:36
Oh, you should. Well, I was thinking when he talked about this as a journey to find home. What is the donkey's home? Most? Like most animal films, they're either returning to their loving owner or they're going to the wild.
Orla Smith 13:53
It's almost like it's like a journey to find anyone with empathy for animals.
Brett Pardy 13:58
But donkeys...there's no wild donkeys. Nobody expresses a deep love for their donkey, it seems.
Alex Heeney 14:04
I think it's that we get to see all the places that he lives? I think that's where I got this from. Also I was thinking about Lean on Pete. But Charley is on this fool's errand, and we don't actually know if he really has a home that he's going to that we think is real.
Brett Pardy 14:20
But at least it's imaginable. He could have a home.
Alex Heeney 14:23
Right. But like we do see Eo's, quote unquote, homes. They're not real homes, but they're places where he lives. Right. And we see different ones.
Orla Smith 14:35
Yeah, I mean, the film has always asked the question of like, is there a home for a donkey in the world when, like, animals are seen as utilities and we aren't like used to, necessarily, like extending empathy to animals unless they're like a dog or a cat? Yeah, who lives in our home? But something like a donkey as soon as I have a tool to carry out labour and is not a pet.
Therefore, is there a is there a home where Eo will feel at home. I mean, we have the circus, which is sort of like a double-edged sword because he had love and empathy there. But he was also like a show animal and he was also abused there. And so it is one of the sad things about the film. As I said, it is almost like a journey for home, but with no clear end in sight, and not necessarily in hope that there will be.
Alex Heeney 15:33
And in that sense, I guess he's kind of like, Lean on Pete the horse that Charley is trying to rescue but like where? I mean, as Brett said, we can imagine that maybe there's a home for Charley. But can we imagine there is a home for Charley and his horse?
Orla Smith 15:50
There's a home for his horse in heaven.
Alex Heeney 15:54
I mean, I guess if he meets like really rich benefactors, and they have stables, maybe there's a home but the
Brett Pardy 16:01
Christian theology doesn't believe animals go to heaven.
Alex Heeney 16:05
Well, there you go. This is getting depressing.
Brett Pardy 16:09
All Dogs Go To Heaven is a lie.
Orla Smith 16:12
Where did they? Where did they go? They just disappear.
Brett Pardy 16:15
Yeah. They don't have souls.
Orla Smith 16:17
But I think Oh,
Alex Heeney 16:19
You gotta go back to like Ancient Egyptian mythology. I think they had better, at least for cats, you had a better, better afterlife.
Brett Pardy 16:30
This is what going to Catholic School gets. You always have some priest coming in and talking to class and then crashing someone's dream that their pet is now in heaven.
Orla Smith 16:39
But that's how like very religious pro life people can justify eating meat. Because yeah, unborn fetuses have souls that must be protected. But this this cow that I ate does not.
Alex Heeney 16:56
But yeah, I think one of the things you mentioned Orla that there's this scene where Eo has gone through all of this hardship. And he finally he gets this opportunity to kick his owner. And it's this triumphant moment, and you sort of like, feel like the other animals are cheering for him.
Orla Smith 17:17
Why is he he's in like, this, like, an Animal Hospital type thing, but they're like putting down or I don't know what animals they were. And they're like, we're like zapping them to death. And it's very horrible to watch and Eo is like, enough of this. And he only kicks the guy who's doing it. And it is very cheer-worthy moment but then like when all that's gonna happen is the guy will wake up and continue to zap the animals.
Alex Heeney 17:51
Wow, just destroy it. Why don't you are
Orla Smith 17:54
Eo, you didn't really do anything, did you?
Brett Pardy 17:57
Eo should have killed him.
Alex Heeney 17:57
Why was gonna say that, that that's sort of why one of the reasons the film reminded me of white God, which is about the dog rebellion, where the dogs all unite to rebel against human cruelty. But that is the film where the reason we care about this dog is because like, he was a stray dog, but then he and a young girl fell in love that sounds wrong. But you know, like, she loves him and he loves her. They're not in in love
Brett Pardy 18:33
the typical human-dog relationship
Alex Heeney 18:40
Thank you, Brett. And so then the whole film like we feel for the dog, but also like, she becomes part of helping with the dog rebellion and she's trying to save the dog. And so that's why we care about it.
But in EO like, yeah, the circus lady clearly loved him or liked him. And she was she was nice to him, even if no one else at the circus was. She goes and finds him once and tries to give him his own birthday cake, which he rejects. Because how dare! But then she like, what, rides off on a motorcycle with her boyfriend. And that's kind of the end of her concern for Eo from our perspective. So then, the reason we care about Eo is is not because of her like she doesn't make Eo special.
Orla Smith 19:33
If anything EO makes her special
Alex Heeney 19:35
Yeah, so I think that really strays from the the norm in such stories.
Brett Pardy 19:43
What I'm getting out of this is that animals lack class-consciousness.
Orla Smith 19:51
Alex Heeney 19:53
Eo needs to get a class-sensitivity training for animals.
Orla Smith 20:00
So that was the end of this excerpt from my episode on EO. The full members only episode goes on for about 40 more minutes. In it, you'll hear our whole conversation in which we place EO within the canon of donkey stories, talk about how filmmakers anthropomorphize animals, and chat through the phenomenon of older filmmakers making exceptionally politically rigorous and inspired cinema. To listen to the full episode become a member at seventh-row.com/join. You'll get to listen to our entire podcast archive, gain a host of other perks, and support our work while you do it.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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