Updated: Jan 18
Jackasses come in two forms: donkeys and people. Three of 2022’s top rated films show people as the real asses, with donkeys taking the brunt of it. Granted, as someone allergic to donkeys, I should probably stand by the human side of things, but the animal lover in me cringes at screen action in Banshees of Inisherin, Triangle of Sadness, and EO. My mind shuts down with the cruelty shown in each story, even while recognizing the filmmaking skill and insightfulness found in all three projects:
Providing Poland’s official entry for Oscar consideration, EO director Jerzy
shows the world through the eyes of a character named for the sound of his braying call. Wandering across the Polish landscape, the donkey EO offers no judgment while taking the world as it comes, good and bad with no mitigating kids’ film finale. Spoiler alert: EO finds himself in a variation of the famous Tennyson poetic lyric, “Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do or die” as he moves across the country in a thoughtful tribute to both animals and a previous classic film from 1966 called Au Hasard Balthezar. Not a literal remake of Robert Bresson’s older film, EO transfers action to Poland and finds that universal truths remain stable despite a change in location and time period. The film avoids mawkishness and defies any description as cute—except of course for all the donkeys who portray the title character.
Meanwhile, the donkey in Triangle of Sadness plays more of a cameo role in a project whose dark comedy involves irony rather than belly laughs. As he did in Force Majeure, director Ruben Östlund examines the self-interested nature of humanity, at one point outdoing the jokemeisters of Monty Python with use of a favorite element found in many comedies, vomit. The scene involves seasickness aboard a luxury cruise that highlights class issues between the ultra-wealthy and people who serve them. The hyper rich folk consider themselves immune to life’s injustices but discover otherwise during a quease-inducing storm and eventual wreck that strands them on an island. Social standing shifts based on skill and other qualities, but Östlund refuses to accept a simple good-bad delineation for his characters, well played by a cast that includes Golden Globe nominee Dolly de Leon. Various complications make valid points which--like all that vomit--don’t necessarily feel fun to watch.
Also labeled a comedy but often short on laughs, The Banshees of Inisherin provides a donkey with a key supporting role as an endearing character in a tale that highlights the banalities of human behavior. The fabulous En Bruges talents (director Martin McDonough plus actors Colin Ferrell and Brendan Gleeson) take a different spin from their previous project as they shift action to a small Irish island dominated by personal interactions. Throwing logic aside, Gleason’s Colm decides to end his friendship with Ferrell’s sweet but dim Paddy, spiraling their world into a nonsensical mess that perhaps has parallels to “The Troubles” occurring across the waters to the 1920s Irish mainland. Banshees’ ultimate point involves pointlessness, perhaps allegorical or possibly just sad. Well-acted and beautifully filmed, the movie and its metaphorical banshees shake their heads at humanity.
Satirically skewering people, all three movies show donkeys as far more noble creatures than any two-footed person.