Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Interview: Polish film showing animal gentle soul is awarded in Cannes

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NE Global interviewed on the Croisette in exclusive Ewa Piakowska, screenwriter of the film EO which landed, ex-equo with the Belgian “Le Otto Montagne”, the jury prize award of the 75th Cannes Film Festival.

The world is a mysterious place when seen through the eyes of an animal. EO, a grey donkey with melancholic and gentle eyes, meets good and bad people on his life’s path, experiences joy and pain, endures the wheel of fortune randomly turn his luck into disaster and his despair into unexpected bliss. But not even for a moment does he lose his innocence.

Federico Grandesso (FG): What was the starting point when we were writing the script?

Ewa Piakowska:The first point was getting the idea to be audacious enough as person was in 1965, to make the main character of a movie an animal, to see the world from the point of view of an animal, trying to look at humanity, human behavior and the world from the perspective of the weakest member of society. We are talking about of a being which doesn’t have a voice, who cannot express his emotions, who cannot tell us what he feels, how he suffers, what he would like to do and to express his anguish, pain and happiness. We thought that would give us an option to describe, to tell the story, to be poetic and to focus on the language of cinema.

FG:How was to make this animal “character” really acting? Because he’s really acting in a very subtle way. But I can imagine this process was not so easy.

EP: Yeah. Especially because we are so careful not to hurt him in any way, to be gentle with him, not to force him, oppress him, to do anything. The first thing we love about it, was the fact of having an animal as an actor who doesn’t even know what acting is. He just is and he’s always in the moment and he doesn’t care about his intentions, director’s intentions, the critics, the film festival audience. There’s no preconceptions and have no afterthoughts. He doesn’t discuss and he doesn’t have internal storms about his agenda. So this is amazing. We was thinking about this quite a lot and we build up a plan to create an environment around the donkey which would allow him to naturally act the way we wanted him to act. So basically we just created a set of incentives, like situation which allowed him to look at something with real actual interest and then we just had this beautiful short of him being interested in something.

FG:It was more difficult for him to interact with the humans or with the animals? What do you think?

EP: It had an amazing relationship, we were all blown away the way he acts with Lorenzo because both of them, the male and the female, just loved Lorenzo for some reasons which are impossible to explain. Maybe, we think that maybe it was the cigarette because he was smoking cigarettes all the time. I think for the donkey, it was something absolutely out of this world. What you see on the screen is actually the real emotion of an animal which reacted to Lorenzo especially well, maybe he’s Italian and they were Polish, so maybe that’s a difference. I don’t know but in general, we had good and bad experiences. I remember in Sicily when we had a female donkey and we wanted to have this very touching scene with Sandra, they just didn’t like this at all. At the end we actually had to have a substitute male donkey brought in by a special car in the last possible moment just to have this very soft scene with Sandra when they had together.

FG: How it was working with Isabelle Huppert? It’s amazing. At the end, we have this incredible appearance.

EP:She’s amazing actress, very professional, everything is executed to the most minute detail, she’s an incredible perfectionist, in control of everything like the little finger of her toe it’s taken into consideration. She’s an absolute perfectionist. It was a joy to watch.

FG: There was a plan maybe to give her a little bit more space, or it was the script already done?

EP:Her role was supposed to be a little bit bigger but then all of the human parts, but in the end, we wanted to insist that donkey is the main character. so we did short in all of the human parts in the final edit.

FG: About the football fans we see in films, how do you get the idea to put football in this contest?

EP:Jerzy (Skolimowski) loves it, he is a huge fan of football, I watch it with him quite often, and he just thought it’s an enjoyable, nice, vivacious, dynamic scene. We somehow had this idea of a donkey interrupting a football match, we thought it’s enjoyable, so we just go for the enjoyable scenes every time we have a chance.

FG: You work with Jerzy for many years. so how do you see the evolution of the work that you did from the first movie to this one in competition in Cannes?

EP: At the beginning Jerzy was always able to tell me, “I know better”, and now I’m fighting back. Now I have more chance to answer back.

FG: Do you give more contribution now ?

EP: Perhaps with the script it’s more of me than of Jerzy but we are collaborators, of course, the directing is his job, but I’m there with him all the time, and I do try to squeeze my little ideas here and there.

FG: There are some shots in red with the aloud music. Can you explain to me this quite intense part?

EP:There is lots of red in this film, it begins with the red image and then goes throughout the film, from the very beginning this is a very emotional film and red is a very emotional color. Then Jerzys is a the painter, so colors are very important to him then we saw that red would be a very nice juxtaposition to all this naturalistic, soft, melancholic shots that we were having throughout the film just have, like a strong juxtaposition.

FG: Can you talk now about the music in the film?

EP:The music is impeccable. It’s Pawel Mykietyn, and this is our third film with him, we love to work together. He’s a genius, and he’s not a film music composer but a proper composer, he does concerts all around and he does also operas, it was just a joy to work with him.

FG: Do you think there is a special technique to train donkeys like we do with dogs?

EP: Yes, a little bit, but not to the same extent because they have much more character. They fight back so If they don’t want to do something they really will not do It. There’s no way of convincing them but of course, it works mainly on treats. They love mainly carrots, . But it was funny to see the last dance we shot with Marietta actually didn’t like carrots and turned to like muffins. So I think each of them has a particular piece of food that they love. That how we convinced them to.

FG: We saw in the first part that the donkey is freed by a group of protesters from an NGO. You really wanted to insert also this “ political “ topic?

EP:We were interested in unexpected consequences of our actions, sometimes good intentions leads to bad results. it’s just about that, to show how little control we have of our actions and then to convince us to keep in mind all the possible consequences of even our best actions.

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Managing Editor of European Union & Italian Political Affairs


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