EO 2023 Oscar nominee is proof we need more animal perspectives in movies

None of the Six Donkeys That Star in Jerzy Skolimowski’s Oscar Nominee HEY will receive a statue at the 2023 Academy Awards, even if the film pulls off an unlikely surprise in the Best International Feature Film category against its fiercest competition, that of Edward Berger. In the west, nothing is new. Animals are not eligible for the Oscars, although many Academy-adopted films have featured animal actors, such as Terry (Toto in The Wizard of Oz) and Popcorn Deelites (Seabiscuit in sea ​​cookie).

But centering HEY about a donkey as subject rather than object, as star rather than supporting character, is what makes Skolimowski’s film a unique experience, both inside and outside the context of the Oscars. Never mind do winning the award for best international feature film will be downright conventional compared to HEYa movie that makes the best argument yet that movies need more animal perspectives.

Skolimowski, the eclectic veteran Polish filmmaker, painter and actor behind films like essential murder And 11minutes (and a little playful, oddly, in the 2012 MCU movie The Avengers), filters HEY through the eyes of its protagonist, an adorable, lonely, lost donkey who roams the Polish and Italian countryside. As much as a camera can to show an audience the world according to a beast, tries cinematographer Michał Dymek. EO’s eyes are Dymek’s constant, an anchor he returns to repeatedly for shots of reaction between portrayals of the worst and the best in humanity. Donkeys playing EO cannot act or react like a human performer would: he comes across as unflappable, placid, and cool. But his lack of expression is an invitation to consider how he sees what we see.

EO, a plaintive donkey wandering across Europe in search of his trainer, is seen in extreme close-up in a photo by EO

Photo: Janus Films

Skolimowski’s contribution to cinema’s “sad ass” niche joins films like those of 1966 Random balthazaralongside the Oscar-nominated examples of 2022 triangle of sadness And The Banshees of Inisherin. It also looks like movies about creatures other than donkeys, like Kelly Reichardt’s first cow and Michael Sarnoski Pig: productions that respect their animal companions as characters, but still leave the narrative reins to humans.

HEY is a permanent tragedy. Heartbreak is built into the logic of the film: EO, a donkey who happily performs before worshiping circus crowds with his master, Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska), is snatched from his custody by the state. After a series of transfers from one owner to another, he escapes and sabotages all of creation, ostensibly trying to get back to Kasandra. His misadventures along the way range from hot to bizarre to horrific.

EO, the protagonist donkey of 2023 Oscar nominee EO, crosses an arched bridge past a vast dam spilling foamy white water from a series of weirs

Photo: Janus Films

“The State” in this film is led by a pompous government official who, after freeing the menagerie from the artists’ circus, pats himself on the back with a speech about “amendment of irregularities.” Skolimowski lays out his thesis here: the people least qualified to administer animal welfare are those in positions of power, rather than people like Kasandra, whose love for EO is tender and unconditional. Certainly one of Kasandra’s circus companions do abuse EO, but he doesn’t treat people very differently. Throughout the film, there are countless ambassadors of human-animal relations who hold stronger credentials than him.

Breeders who welcome EO in their stable; children with special needs who visit the farm and shower it with affection and hugs; football fans who adopted him as their mascot after winning a match against their rivals; Richling Vito (Lorenzo Zurzolo), who takes EO from a crime scene to his family’s villa and chats with him like an old friend rather than a random donkey – these characters represent humanity in the best possible light by as guardians of animal welfare.

On the other hand, there is the furrier who kills caged foxes; THE losing the football team’s violent hooligan fans venting their frustrations on EO; and hunters crawling through the ominous woods at night, lighting their way with green laser sights. Together they form the “people fear” side of HEYthe trip.

But winnowing the film down to that misanthropic message serves Skolimowski’s job poorly. HEY nothing can be sugarcoated: humanity’s darkest tendencies are shown in great detail, right down to murder. (Vito’s relationship with his doting mother-in-law – played by Isabelle Huppert with her usual level of biting intensity – doesn’t suggest much faith in human relationships either.) But there is light in that darkness, a source of goodwill towards man, all reflected in the bottomless depth of EO’s gaze. He is aware of the kindnesses shown to him and the cruelties meted out to him, even when he is not in the center of the frame, or in the frame at all. And he’s aware he misses his sitter and hopes to get back to her, to the point of leaving the idyllic safety to go find her, as the donkey-POV flashes make it clear what he’s thinking.

EO, the protagonist donkey of 2023 Oscar nominee EO, hangs out in a horse trailer with a dark-haired man who looks him deep in the eye

Photo: Janus Films

It is rare for the Oscars to reward a film like HEY, where an animal takes the starring role and humans play the supporting role. If the Academy had ignored the project of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert Everything everywhere all at once, HEY would unquestionably be the year’s most unique contestant. For everyone Everywherehowever, the Daniels are invested in the human condition, explored from a human perspective.

HEY invests from the animal point of view. Not even sea ​​cookie can make this claim. The question of observed experience is vital; while every movie is a chance to see the world through another person’s eyes, movies rarely offer animals the same opportunity. And movies that TO DO, next to none of them reaching the kind of stage that the Oscars provide. The Academy needs more movies like HEY — but crucially, moviegoers might too.

HEY East streaming on The Criterion Channeland is available for rental or purchase on Amazon, Vuduand other digital platforms.


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