“Eo” and “RMN”, two films that warn of humanity in danger

11:00 p.m., October 17, 2022

Presented in competition at Cannes in May, two fables, one lyrical and sensory, the other refined and cerebral, draw up a disillusioned and disturbing observation of a humanity that seems to be running to its loss. Eo (the onomatopoeia hi-han in Polish) marks the return of Jerzy Skolimowski (Moonlighting, Essential Killing), 84 years old. The argument of the film evokes the masterpiece of Robert Bresson Random balthazar (1966), to which the Polish filmmaker pays homage while moving away from it.

Here too, it is about a donkey confronted with the stupidity and cruelty of men but, unlike its Bressonian congener, Eo is not reduced to the roles of expiatory victim or silent witness: the feature film revolves around him and him alone, humans being more than secondary characters.

A vision of the world at the height of a donkey

If in his rural drama imbued with Christian mystic Bresson told the story of a way of the cross, with Eo, Jerzy Skolimowski makes that of a pantheistic odyssey. A journey in the form of a visual and sound trip whose plastic beauty bewitches, as announced by the strobe red light of its opening – a motif that will return in places. The donkey, then a circus and beast of burden, performs a number there with his beloved trainer, the only one to show him affection. Ironically, the defenders of the animal cause soon separate them. Now it goes from one owner to another, escapes again and again throughout a fable with wandering as its only red thread.

From Poland to Italy, he will come across some good souls but essentially pathetic or cruel men who mistreat the living, of which they believe themselves the masters. Eo is not devoid of humor either. Above all, he constantly surprises by marrying the perception of the world of his candid but not fooled hero, and sometimes even his beautiful melancholy gaze through an anamorphic image. The director (also a visual artist) greedily draws on the possibilities offered by cinema. An aerial sequence shot of a forest painted red which ends on a wind turbine – the drone spins like its blades –, a tunnel from which bats spring, the donkey on the bridge of a huge dam.

So many animated paintings that impress the retina to question the cohabitation between man and nature. One thinks of Terrence Malick, Jean-Luc Godard or even Charles Laughton and his Hunter’s Night during a nocturnal escape taking on the appearance of a horrific tale. The striking soundtrack, in tune with the images, contributes to the experience. It has been said of great directors that they film at eye level. With this enchanting and disenchanted visual poem rewarded on the Croisette with a well-deserved jury prize, Jerzy Skolimowski speaks of the need to see the world at the height of a donkey.

Communal tensions in Transylvania

Changing tone and mood with NMRby Cristian Mungiu (Palme d’or in 2007 for 4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 days) which, as its title (IRM in Romanian) suggests, scans Romanian society – and not only it – through the remote village where its plot is anchored. Welcome to Transylvania, a multi-ethnic region with a large Hungarian minority, a few Germans and Roma, whom we congratulate ourselves here on having driven out of the town. To the persistent community tensions are added those caused by the effects of globalization, European directives or the impoverishment of the population, between mistrust of the West and racist presuppositions vis-à-vis the East.

Cristian Mungiu once again relies on a news item: the protest in 2020 of 200 villagers against the hiring of two Sri Lankans in an industrial bakery in need of local employees. And once again, he testifies to a remarkable intelligence and mastery which can be observed both in substance and in form, the film being entirely composed of sequence shots. While it follows a Romanian slaughterer returning from Germany and his mistress of Hungarian culture, the manager of the company, there are many characters in his teeming story that navigates between each other’s houses, the bakery, the church or the surrounding woods to portray this Babel-like micro-society as a whole. We speak Romanian, Hungarian, German, English and even French – the different colors of the subtitles prevent the viewer from getting lost.

The director examines a country won over by fear and hatred through the inhabitants of the town, but his disturbing diagnosis extends to Europe and even beyond. However, he does not give in to condescension or moral judgment, preferring to show than demonstrate with a fixed camera and minimal editing. The impressive seventeen-minute scene where villagers come together to decide the fate of Sri Lankans will be remembered. With its naturalism that sometimes borders on the strange, even the fantastic, its brilliantly written dialogues and its convincing interpretation, this dark and complex fable turns out to be a fascinating human experience.


By Jerzy Skolimowski, with Sandra Drzymalska, Isabelle Huppert. 1:29 a.m. Out Wednesday.

NMR ***

By Cristian Mungiu, with Marin Grigore, Judith State. 2:05 a.m. Out Wednesday.

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“Eo” and “RMN”, two films that warn of humanity in danger