By Jenny Paola Ortega Castillo.
DK and Hugh Welchman’s film, which recreates frames as oil paintings, is a captivating portrayal of the darker and most unsettling aspects of human nature, such as oppressive patriarchy, small-minded shared beliefs, selfishness, narcissism and jealous behavior within the constraints of a small community.”
People gossip just for the hell of it!
‘The Peasants’ (2023) is a remarkable rendition of Wladyslaw Reymont’s 1904 Nobel Prize-winning novel of the same name; its ambitious fully painted animation style is, without a doubt, a visually striking cinematic experience. It truly speaks of the importance of an interesting visual approach to tell a story set and thought within the particularities of Poland’s 19th century countryside. DK and Hugh Welchman’s choice to recreate frames as oil paintings is absolutely bold and it is completely worth it. The seasons transition through vivid sequences, during which the landscape undergoes fluid-like transformations that makes the audience feel they’re travelling through beautiful brushstrokes. The resulting artistic rendering adds several layers of depth and emotion to every single scene. This kind of cinematography design captures perfectly the harsh beauty of the rural landscape and enriches the emotional intensity of the characters’ struggles.
The choice to streamline Reymont’s extensive narrative novel into a character-driven story is praiseworthy, it allows to emphasize the complexities of love and societal expectations within a small community just as the well-known proverb states: “small town, big drama”. The narrative is centered around the coming of age story of Jagna, portrayed by Kamila Urzędowska, a 19-year-old who lives under the moral scrutiny of a small town in which opinions and beliefs on a young woman’s life can be quite harsh and unforgiving. Her remarkable beauty turns out for her, a blessing and curse.
When Jagna gets involved in a romantic relationship with a resentful farmhand called Antek, she starts to experience the harsh realities of social judgment; even more when, amidst an unfair transactional agreement with Antek’s elderly widowed father Maciej, she gets entangled in a forceful engagement full of abuse in which she had little choice but to comply. Little afterwards, she breaks the agreement by promptly resuming her relationship with Antek.
That’s the precise moment when Jagna realizes and experiences the social scrutiny rooted in deeply entrenched gender stereotypes and expectations on how women should behave. As expected, the repercussions of the villagers’ criticism extend beyond Jagna as an individual and affect not only her personal reputation and well-being but how others perceive and interact with her. The villagers, without the benefit of the doubt, and executing a shared moral compass, condemn Jagna and title her as promiscuous, predicting and sentencing a negative impact on the harvest blamed entirely on her. This treatment made her the target of unrelenting misogyny and violence as she is perceived as a malignant force that must be removed and eradicated for the well-being of the community.
Although the film does face challenges in articulating the reasoning behind some of Jagna’s actions and at times, her lack of empathy and sorority, it invites the audience to reflect on the very challenging intricacies of morality and in general, social expectations and norms. The film is thus a paradox in its captivating portrayal of the darker and most unsettling aspects of human nature, such as oppressive patriarchy, small-minded shared beliefs, selfishness, narcissism and jealous behavior within the constraints of a small community.
Jenny Paola Ortega Castillo is an English philologist and has a master’s degree in cultural studies from the National University of Colombia. She is a literature, writing and reading teacher from Minuto de Dios University in Bogotá, Colombia. Her main research interests are in literature, visual research, television studies and cultural studies.