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Fletcher Powell reveals his number one movie of 2022

Janus Films

The best movie of the year is about a donkey. Which maybe shouldn’t actually be that much of a surprise, given one of the best movies ever made, the 1966 French film Au hazard Balthazar, is also about a donkey. I don’t know what more to make of that, but here we are.

This new one is the Polish film EO, which is both the name of the donkey and, if you say it out loud, sort of like the sound a donkey makes. Like Balthazar, this film doesn’t anthropomorphize the donkey or try to make it anything other than a donkey, although it is occasionally more aggressive about showing us the world through the donkey’s eyes. But we see as the donkey moves from one place to another, sometimes by force, sometimes by choice, and how it passes through the complicated lives of people it meets along the way. It’s very much an exercise in empathy, and an examination of the passage of time, the impermanence of all things, and how we assign meaning.

But lest you think this is some plodding mediation, EO is also a thrilling piece of filmmaking, an exquisite example both of film as art and of the ability of filmmaking techniques to make us feel and see things in very particular ways. The movie is made by the 84-year-old director Jerzy Skolimowski, and it seems like the sort of thing we’d get from a filmmaker who’s simply moved past being self-conscious about openly manipulating the audience, and has instead embraced film’s ability to do just that. I said the movie doesn’t anthropomorphize the donkey, and it doesn’t, but it does nudge us in certain directions through editing, music, and camerawork, and it creates its story this way despite long wordless stretches, pushing us to assume we know what the donkey is thinking and why it’s behaving the way it does, even though every move it makes could easily be explained by the fact that it’s a donkey. Is all of this basic to filmmaking? Sure. But to see that manipulation formed so expertly and overtly is an electrifying example of why movies are uniquely magical.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.