Quick Reviews: 'EO', 'Cairo Conspiracy' | Donkey Travels Central Europe, Religion Meets Politics
Would you look at that ass? A pitch for a movie like this is so obscure that it probably does need every viewer it can get so you might want to look at it, enjoy it, even experience it. Seasoned director Jerzy Skolimowski explores the road drama format with EO (IO in Poland) through the eyes of a homesick donkey. Written by Skolimowski and Ewa Piaskowska, the film follows titular EO (featured donkey actors are Hola, Tako, Marietta, Ettore, Rocco and Mela), a circus animal who ends up on a farm and away from her human buddy Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska) after their circus gets shut down following protests by animal rights activists. Soon after EO escapes which leads it on a wild journey in central Europe's forests, roads, football games, bars and animal hospitals.
That premise which Skolimowski and Piaskowska have cooked up is, of course, goofy just on a first glance but the real magic here is how they manage to pull so much material from it. In their text, there are shades of environmentalism and animals' place in that system but the film can hold its own just as a road comedy of sorts as well. Pawel Mykietyn's score compliments a duality in the storytelling and pace is great once EO starts its journey from the farm. Funnily enough it's also those donkey actors who take the spotlight, particularly because a lot of the human acting is quite poor and Skolimowski's direction of them feels rushed, one main example being the football sequence which is awkwardly staged and cut together with zero sense of space or composition. It's weird to ask a director, actors and crew members to step up their game when a donkey is often outperforming them all but here we are.
Smileys: Premise, score
Frowneys: Some issues with directing
There's no separating religion and state in pressure cooker environments such as one depicted in Cairo Conspiracy (known as Boy from Heaven in Sweden, صبي من الجنة in Arabic), a political thriller from writer-director Tarik Saleh which battles both of those establishments in its story. In the middle of it all is Adam (Tawfeek Barhom), a young man who gets accepted to study at the respected Al-Azhar University in Cairo, known for its Islamic teachings. When the Grand Imam, an important religious and political figure, dies, Adam gets thrown into the deadly power struggle as different factions of Egypt's political spectrum seek to gain this position. Ibrahim (Fares Fares), a detective investigating a death at the campus, decides to use Adam as an informer.
Saleh's vision has some frustrating push-and-pull but he does build spiralling, layered storytelling mechanics which trust the audience to feel the tension in a realm which purposefully leaves motivations and grievances untold. Adam's balancing of naivety, fear and wavering faith in the system is palpable as is Ibrahim's uncertainty about what's to come, interpreted astutely by Barham and Fares, respectively. Editor Theis Schmidt and Fares' scene structure often throw roadblocks in the way as very few sequences have decent flow, almost as if every beginning and end of a scene were both cut to death and shared no visual language. This is also apparent in the last 30 minutes when the film keeps ending about six times, only to introduce one curveball after another, even the better ones being adequate at best. There's no reason to be this plot-driven when your story, main character and setting are so compelling.
Smileys: Story, atmosphere, directing
Frowneys: Editing, screenplay