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'EO' is a Polish film about a donkey that leaves the circus

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"EO," Jerzy Skolimowski's new film, opens on a pair of unforgettable eyes. They're the eyes of a donkey born in a Polish circus that closes, which sends the donkey onto a trail of decidedly un-Disney-esque (ph) adventures but real-life encounters with humans - some of them friendly, some of them callous and worse. "EO" has won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and his Poland's Oscar entry. And Jerzy Skolimowski, who has also received the Golden Lion Award for lifetime achievement at the Venice Film Festival, joins us now from Santa Monica, Calif. Thank you so much for being with us.

JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI: My pleasure.

SIMON: What moved you to tell the story of a donkey?

SKOLIMOWSKI: Well, I was trying to break from so-called linear narration, the traditional narration of the film based on the three-act structure. And honestly, I am fed up with that structure. I thought that it may be much more interesting if I will try to find some other way of narrating the film. I could perhaps introduce an animal character as a one of the leading or perhaps the leading character of the film. I decided that the donkey would be the leading character of "EO." And actually, the title, "EO," is a kind of onomatopoeic...

SIMON: Yeah.

SKOLIMOWSKI: ...Version of the sound which a donkey makes. (Imitating donkey) E-O, E-O. This more - sounds more or less like that.

SIMON: Yeah. I have read that it wasn't always a donkey in your mind but that you saw a donkey's eyes.

SKOLIMOWSKI: By chance, I came across a donkey. And what struck me was the size of his eyes and a specific melancholic expression of those eyes, which - I thought it could be read as a comment on every situation the donkey would find himself in. And then, by cutting to this enormous eyes, one at least could imagine what was going on in donkey's head, how he reacts into what he is witnessing at that very moment.

SIMON: Yeah. I made a note of the names - Ola, Taco, Marietta, Ettore, Rocco and Mela. They're the six donkeys who played EO.

SKOLIMOWSKI: Correct.

SIMON: Did you feel a sense of partnership with them? You've worked with a lot of actors in your 84 years. I wonder what it was like to work with these actors.

SKOLIMOWSKI: Well, first of all, that was necessity for the animals' well-being.

SIMON: Yeah.

SKOLIMOWSKI: That was No. 1 priority on our set. You know, we made this film actually out of love for animals and nature.

SIMON: There's a particularly heart-wrenching sequence that begins - course, we're in the middle of the World Cup. But it begins with a village soccer - as we call it in this country, soccer game. And there's a penalty kick. And we'll hear the title character get inadvertently involved.

(SOUNDBITE OF DONKEY BRAYING)

SKOLIMOWSKI: That created a big, big conflict between the two groups of the soccer fans...

SIMON: Yeah.

SKOLIMOWSKI: ...Or more precisely, to say, soccer hooligans, because after, that one team lost the game. And blaming for the donkey because it bray in the most crucial moment - the penalty kick executor missed the goal.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, it was heart-wrenching because, of course, there are some fans who took it out on the donkey.

SKOLIMOWSKI: Yes, it was one of the more difficult scenes to be shot although no donkey...

SIMON: Right.

SKOLIMOWSKI: ...Was hurt. None of those blows reached his body. We were actually beating the so-called punching bag, was lying on the couple of chairs.

SIMON: Yeah.

SKOLIMOWSKI: And that represent the body of the donkey.

SIMON: Well, you see a scene like that, and you don't think much of the human brain or heart.

SKOLIMOWSKI: That's correct (laughter).

SIMON: Yeah.

SKOLIMOWSKI: I do think like that, yes. Many, many times, I got a reaction of the viewer of the film who said, you know what I did immediately after returning from the cinema? When I return home, I hug my pet. So that tells you quite a lot.

SIMON: There are moments of happiness in the life of this donkey.

SKOLIMOWSKI: Fortunately, there are some happy moments and even some funny moments. This film is not at all sad. It gives the audience opportunity to love. I'm very happy when I hear in this cinema people are laughing. But the happiest maybe sequence is - in one of the episodes, he goes to this stable of beautiful Arabic horses. And those are really like the aristocrats of the animals.

SIMON: Yeah.

SKOLIMOWSKI: And the beauty of those horses and the fact that our poor donkey - it's much smaller, much weaker, not at all elegant. But he enjoys the company of them and feels like maybe he is a part of such a beauty contest. That's quite lovely and is very pleasing to watch because the beauty of those animals is such that it's really breathtaking.

SIMON: Jerzy Skolimowski, his new much-lauded film, "EO." Thank you so much for being with us, sir.

SKOLIMOWSKI: Thank you. All the best. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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