The Peasants: Powerful and Unique

When I heard about the film, The Peasants, and that it was based on a Nobel winning book, I was curious. I like unusual films and this one is truly different. Once I had the chance to watch it, I knew this was one of a kind. With the impressionistic style of animation and the dramatic story, the film is powerful and unique. 

The Peasants is an adult animated historical drama directed and written by DK Welchman and Hugo Welchman. An adaptation of Władysław Reymont’s Nobel Prize-winning novel of the same name, the film was produced using the painted animation technique similar to the pair’s previous film, Loving Vincent.The film has four parts corresponding to the four seasons and takes part over the course of one year in the village of Lipce at the turn of the century. In the village, young Jagna Paczesiówna  (Kamila Urzędowska) is beautiful and talented, creating cutouts. Jagna falls in love with Antek Boryna (Robert Gulaczyk), the son of the richest man in the village, Maciej (Mirosław Baka). However, Antek has a wife, Hanka (Sonia Mietielica) and Maciej, a widower, is looking for a new wife and decides to marry Jagna, giving her six acres of land as a dowry. Antek and Hanka aren’t happy with the decision and leave the farm. Antek and Jagna carry on an affair but are soon caught by Maciej. Drama within the village leaves Maciej to a fight with landowners in which he is injured and Antek imprisoned. The village soon blames Jagna for all the misfortunes that befall them and she becomes increasingly isolated and betrayed by all around her.

One of the aspects of this film that makes it so unique is the animated style. The distinct style of animation is reminiscent of the impressionistic style of painting and allows for lighting choices that enhance the film’s story. During each season of the story, there are different colors that are focused on but red surrounds Janga and highlights both the passion and the pain in her life. It demonstrates the violent nature of other’s actions on her. The mix of the animation and the realistic actions is striking and each season has different lighting. Darkness is used to great effect during Winter to highlight both the time of year but also the darkness approaching Maciej and Jagna. The effort and work of the artists in creating the animation is easy to see and is done to beautiful effect. With the realism created by using real actors and then using paintings based on the shots, it creates a seamless effect that is gorgeous, dramatic and powerful. It is truly spellbinding.

Along with the animation, the music resonates and highlights the emotional scenes in the movie. The song, “End of Summer” playing at the close of the film is poignant and haunting. The music enhances the emotions of the actors and the story. It is a sweeping soundtrack that adds nuance and subtlety to the film.The music is rich in the culture and history of the region. 

The narrative is powerful and rich with symbolism. From the beginning, we see different ways that power is the center of the story. Jagna has no power in who she’ll marry. Maciej and Antek vie for power, the elder vying with the younger, Maciej not willing to give up his power to his son but gripping his power tight within his hands. There is the conflict between the farmers and the landowners, the landowners trying to take the forest that provides for the village. Hanka has little power either, having to either accept her husband’s infidelity or leave. The use of power creates an emotional and rich narrative. 

The actors are incredible in presenting the drama of the village and the detailed emotions of their characters. Kamila Urzędowska has depth and dimension as Jagna, giving us a nuanced and emotional performance. Robert Gulaczyk as Antek and Mateusz Rusin as Mateusz, another suitor for Jagna, both excel with their body language and illustrate the tension and conflict between their two characters. Mirosław Baka is also fantastic as Maciej, the tension clear between him and Jagna, the father son conflict well presented. Sonia Mietielica as Hanka is quieter but equally skilled with her performance. The performances infuse the narrative with rich details and powerful performances that shine. 

There are some strange points especially reading the subtitles and there are some convoluted scenes that aren’t necessary to the drama. However with such a rich and emotional narrative, it really may just come down language barriers. No matter how well something is translated, sometimes it does lose some translation in the process. Still, the majority of the story and the emotions are clear in this movie.

If you like historical dramas with an unusual animation style or you’ve watched Loving Vincent, this film will be perfect for you. It is incredibly different and the drama is emotional. The actors are all dynamic and talented. While there are subtitles, the story is worth reading. It shows clearly why it was selected for a Noble prize as a short story and I feel like the filmmakers have honored that vision. I know it was a beautiful film to me, with a powerful and unique animation style and narrative. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 seasons.

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