Review by Camden Ferrell
DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman are a married directing duo who are most known for their 2017 film Loving Vincent, which garnered them an Oscar nomination. It was notable as the first fully painted animated film, and their new film, The Peasants, employs a similar animation style. Based on the novel of the same name, it had its premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. This movie is visually captivating while telling a compelling yet familiar and conventional story.
In a 19th century Poland village, Jagna is a young woman married off to a much older man despite being in love with his son. Through this marriage and other turmoil in the village, she endures resentment and hostility at the hands of those around her. The film is told in four parts, one representing each season, and each section sees Jagna as she grapples with ire, gossip, and abuse as she tries to make the most of the situation in which she finds herself.
Written by the Welchmans, the script is fairly standard. It doesn’t try and mess with the narrative structure or play around with its dialogue and interactions in any way. It seems they likely wanted to keep it as straightforward as possible. Even though it works within the context of the film, there are some sluggish and familiar moments that can sometimes bog down the pacing and enjoyment of the film. However, when a film is so engrained in its complex visual style, I suppose it makes sense to keep the narrative as conventional as possible.
The performances in this movie are all strong. While the entire ensemble elevates the film with some truly hostile and condescending performances, it’s hard to deny the show-stealer is Kamila Urzedowska who plays Jagna. She leads the film with a sensitive yet powerful portrayal of our protagonist. She captures a wide range of emotions from passionate love and happiness to heartbreaking and soul-wrenching pain. It’s a demanding role due to its brutal and uncomfortable nature, and she handles it fantastically.
While the movie has a lot working for it, the main attraction is its animation. The painted technique is used to a captivating extent here. Each of the frames are meticulously painted and animated to enhance a rather standard story. This technique is beautiful and engaging to watch, and it adds an indescribably mesmerizing quality to its more chaotic and dynamic scenes.
Without its unique animation, The Peasants would just be a solid drama, but its approach to animation allows it to flourish and become a memorable viewing experience. It’s a difficult movie to watch due to its graphic content, but it’s an engaging story that overcomes its flaws with its visual style and superb leading performance.
The Peasants is in theaters December 8.