The Peasants review | Gorgeous animation lacks purpose

the peasants review
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Directors DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman bring a small Polish village alive with the help of animation. Here’s our The Peasants review. 

2017’s Loving Vincent felt like such an anomaly in a landscape dominated by the likes of Disney and Illumination. While animation has never been a genre solely for children, Loving Vincent felt like a new way of using the medium. 

The directors of Loving Vincent, DK and Hugh Welchman, return to the format with The Peasants, another achingly beautiful animation that somehow lacks the soul and heart of their previous work. 

The story follows a young Polish woman, Jagna (played by Kamila Urzędowska) who lives in the small village of Lipce at the turn of the 20th century. She is passionately in love with the married Antek, but is instead arranged to marry Antek’s father Majiec, the richest and most powerful man in the village. Jagna’s forbidden love with Antek complicates things and it’s not long before violence ensues.

The Peasants jagna
Credit: Vertigo Releasing

There’s two things you need to know about The Peasants. One, it’s a visually gorgeous piece of cinema. Two, it’s brutal as heck. In fact, the two things – aching beauty and brutality – often go hand in hand. Jagna’s journey is a miserable one and there are no happy endings here, just constant misery and violence. Yet, The Peasants is also a story of strength, of carrying on when the world (and the people in it) is desperate to bring you down. 

It’s inspirational for sure, but it’s not a film I’m particularly keen on putting myself through again. It’s funny that The Peasants premieres roughly a month before Yorgos Lanthimos’ equally enchanting Poor Things; both films place their female protagonists of times past into romantic entanglements, but whereas Poor Things’ Bella Baxter is allowed to liberate herself, Jagna is subjected to misogynistic violence, again and again. 

It’s a challenge to keep watching the increasingly violent and dark film, to keep subjecting yourself to that trauma constantly, especially if you’re a woman, and in the end, there’s not much reward. The film does speak to a uniquely female point of view, that universal strength that makes us get up after we’ve been knocked down, because we have never had the option of just giving up. It’s a bittersweet message and note to end the film on; it’s just a question if you’re willing to watch several scenes of rape and beating to get to that.

For those seeking out the film because they enjoyed Loving Vincent, I have good news and bad news. The animation is, without a doubt, gorgeous. There is so much life and motion in each frame of the film and it really does bring each and every character alive in a unique way. 

However, The Peasants lacks the poetry and purpose of Loving Vincent. In that film, the Welchmans used animation as a way to imagine the world through Vincent Van Gogh’s eyes and artwork. It worked remarkably well, but lightning doesn’t strike twice. Here, the effect feels more muted and pointless. The animation is vivid, to the point that it’s almost too close to regular filmed footage, begging the question: why wasn’t this just done in live-action? 

Clearly, The Peasants was filmed with live actors and then later converted into animation, and the result is hollow. While animation has progressed tremendously, and films like Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse and Puss In Boots: The Last Wish have managed to find new ways to tell stories, the Welchmans struggle to make their film innovative. Instead, The Peasants seems to rely on a gimmick that worked once, but has lost its charm. 

The Peasants is now in cinemas. 

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