The Peasants

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With The Peasants, filmmakers DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman return to a similar animation style that previously earned them an Academy Award nomination for 2017’s Loving Vincent.  Loving Vincent was a tribute to artist Vincent van Gogh, both in spirit and in visual flare.  The Peasants adapts Wladyslaw Reymont’s novel of the same name, and channels the artistry of various painters from the 19th and 20th century.  While I can’t confidently comment on how faithful the Welchman’s latest work is to their source material, The Peasants is indefinitely darker and more mature than their previous endeavour and a much better movie because of that.

The stakes in The Peasants create a threatening and horrific atmosphere for our lead heroine Jagna (Kamila Urzędowska).  Jagna shows affection for farmhand Antek (Robert Gulaczyk), but ends up being a pawn in her small community’s system by being sold into a marriage to Antek’s widowed father Maciej (Miroslaw Baka).  Feeling intimidated by Maciej’s unpredictable and unsympathetic demeanour, unable to openly pursue her desired romance, and constantly criticized by the community’s rumour mill, Jagna is always on edge and doesn’t know who to trust. 

The Peasants chronicles a year in Jagna’s new life and as the seasons roll on, we watch the light in Jagna’s personality waver with each disheartening interaction.  The film’s visual aesthetics – shooting the movie as a live action feature and then having over a hundred international oil painters illustrate each frame – distorts Jagna’s reality.  The movie can resemble a dream just as often as it can look like a nightmarish whirlwind.  The constant jitters in the animation could signify the malicious motivations that are being concealed under the surface of cordial smiles surrounding Jagna.  The animation also emphasizes hysterical reactions and adds more details to violent confrontations, which is an artistic achievement and a great device for characterizations.

While it’s a technical marvel and a calvacade of committed actors giving fantastic performances, The Peasants’ disturbing portrayal of relentless, misogynistic mobbing makes the movie tough to recommend;  comparative to 2019’s brutal drama The Nightingale, Netflix’s Oscar-nominated biopic Blonde, or Lars von Trier’s incomplete Land of Opportunities series (Dogville, Manderlay).  The Peasants is very good at its job though, communicating hate and heartbroken helplessness through an original scope.  Plus its final scene, while not proposing a solution to this hateful behaviour, is a beautiful reclamation for Jagna.


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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