Legendary director Jerzy Skolimowski created one of his freest and most visually inventive films yet with this story of a gray donkey named EO. After being removed from an itinerant circus, EO begins a trek across the countryside, experiencing cruelty and kindness from a cast of characters including an Italian countess (Isabelle Huppert) and a Polish soccer team. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature, and featuring stunning cinematography by Michał Dymek coupled with Paweł Mykietyn’s resonant score, EO presents the follies and triumphs of humankind from the perspective of its four-legged protagonist on a quest for freedom.
Criterion releases Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO on Blu-ray through their Janus Contemporaries line, presenting it in the aspect ratio of about 1.44:1 (despite being listed at 1.33:1 in the specs) on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.
Despite EO being filmed digitally (finished in 4K), it has an excellent photographic sheen rendered superbly here. Details and the movie’s finer textures are rendered cleanly, right down to EO’s individual hairs. Black levels are rich and inky, and the dynamic range is remarkably wide, cleanly rendering shadows and showing extensive detail within them. Light also blends cleanly into the darker sequences without any evident banding.
The film features a few sequences in red and black, which can show some minor blocking patterns. Outside of those moments, I thought the digital presentation looked very clean otherwise. Very lovely overall, and it’s a shame the film isn’t receiving a 4K edition.
The film’s Polish surround soundtrack is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD MA. There isn’t a lot of dialogue, but what’s present (including the donkey’s brays) sounds perfectly clean. The mix is also rather creative, directing a lot of activity to the rear speaker, most notably when things are presented from EO’s point of view, all with ample range. It’s a very effective presentation.
As with the other titles in the Janus Contemporaries line thus far, the special features are minimal, with all of the material created for The Criterion Channel. However, this ends up being one of the stronger batches so far, thanks chiefly to a 24-minute making-of that is simply a discussion between Skolimowski and co-writer Ewa Piaskowska. The discussion starts by covering planning and script development, the two even explaining the reasons behind focusing the film on a donkey. They next talk about the experience of working with the multiple donkeys used in the movie to play EO and how editing was used to get a performance out of them, with the Kuleshov Effect naturally coming up. Skolimowski also shares a story about first seeing Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar and how much it impacted him.
To accompany that discussion, the disc also includes a fun 4-minute piece where the two talk about the six donkeys that appeared in the film: Marietta (who was good at playing dead), Tako (used for action shots), Hola (suitable for close-ups), Ettore (good for the flashback), and then Hola and Mela, who look to have been used for longer sections throughout the film.
Things then close with the film’s trailer and a short essay in a single-fold insert.
I feel like there’s the potential for more (and BFI’s UK edition looks to include more material), but I still enjoyed going through what’s here.
An excellent A/V presentation with a small yet intriguing set of features.