Review: The Peasants
by Ola Salwa
- The new film by DK and Hugh Welchman, selected as the Polish Oscar entry, is a visually alluring painted animation which revolves around a young girl whose fate is decided by others
The Peasants [+see also:
film profile], which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, is the second feature by DK Welchman (previously Dorota Kobiela) and Hugh Welchman, the directorial duo behind the Oscar-nominated animated film Loving Vincent [+see also:
interview: Dorota Kobiela
film profile], which followed the life of Vincent Van Gogh. The Welchmans' new film, Poland's Oscar submission for this year's race, and released in its home country tomorrow, 13 October, by Next Film, is based on the eponymous novel by Polish author Władysław Reymont, which won him a Nobel Prize. The Peasants the book was a menace for all Polish high-school students forced to read it, including this writer, mainly because of its long and exhaustive odes to bucolic nature. However, its film adaptation is quite the opposite in this respect – the images of Polish fields, lakes and orchards from the late 19th century are alluring here. The filmmakers, once again, shot all of their scenes using real locations and actors, and then had all the images hand-painted by artists from Poland, Lithuania, Serbia and Ukraine. Their work was inspired by Reymont’s contemporary painters, such as Józef Chełmoński, Leon Wyczółkowski and Ferdynand Ruszczyc.
The story stretches from autumn to summer and follows the lives of the inhabitants of a small village, where local beauty Jagna (Kamila Urzędowska) is forced by her mother (Ewa Kasprzyk) to marry the much older wealthy widower Boryna (Mirosław Baka), while she is in love with his son, Antek (Roman Gularczyk). A few secondary characters bring both conflict and colour, such as the sleazy Mayor (Andrzej Konopka), his meddling wife (Sonia Bohosiewicz), and the old gossip monger Jagustynka, who eventually becomes Jagna’s biggest ally (Dorota Stalińska).
The Peasants paints a wonderful picture of local traditions and customs, offering an interesting dive into the rural society of the time, without ignoring some more upsetting aspects, such as sexual violence against women. The lead character is perhaps a little problematic – Jagna profits from her looks, yet at the same time, she’s a victim of abuse and jealousy from other women, especially when there is no man to protect her. Some see her as angelic, some as a femme fatale, but that contradiction doesn’t really benefit the narrative. It’s also not clear what her goal is; initially she’s simply in love with Antek, who is married to Hanka (the superb Sonia Mietelica), but later on, she seems to just wander aimlessly. The spectacular Kamila Urzędowska plays her character with grace and a bit of mystique, but it seems that the directorial duo doesn’t have much to offer Jagna, apart from making her a dreamer. Her elusiveness comes in contrast with all the other protagonists, whose agendas are clear. The biggest aid to understanding and emotionally connecting to Jagna comes from the work of composer Łukasz LUC Roskowski. The music, inspired by traditional songs and tunes, represents the emotional landscape of all of the characters. Apparently, some women just need to be listened to.
The Peasants was produced by Poland's BreakThru Films and co-produced by Serbia's Digitalkraft and Lithuania's Art Shot, with support from Canal+ Poland, Narodowe Centrum Kultury, Mazowiecki Instytut Kultury and SKP Ślusarek Kubiak Pieczyk. New Europe Film Sales holds the international rights.
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