Why 'The Peasants' is a Rich, Absorbing, Drama

The Peasants Chlopi Kamila Urzędowska Jagna Sony Classics
Sony Classics

Writer/directors -- DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman -- “The Peasants” brings a new meaning to movies as an art form. Live action meets animation with a big bang in this magnificently filmed Polish drama. It is a story as old as time. An heiress must marry a financially advantageous older man despite lusting for a younger man.

In “The Peasants,” this scenario is played out by Jagna (Kamila Urzędowska) and Antek (Robert Gulaczyk). Neither are sympathetic characters. Antek is a married father openly lusting for Jagna, who openly reciprocates. Jagna’s carefree mindset and disinterest in her reputation are dangerous.

Young and feeling invincible, Jagna ignores the risks at play.

Jagna behaves cluelessly, entitled to her whims, blissfully unaware of what she is facing. Perhaps because she is unaware of how rare her spectacular beauty and grace are in the world, Jagna could truly have any man she wants. Those in “The Peasants” assume she knows this and understandably judge her behavior accordingly.

There a very few sympathetic characters in “The Peasants,” and Yagna and Antek are not among them. Antek’s complicated wife, Hanka, is the only likable one in the pack. Hanka reacts to Jagna’s havoc on her life like someone trying to survive a natural disaster. Hanka’s hopes to rebuild her life and family slowly ebb away with the sands of time.

The problem is you cannot rebuild a house on sand.

“The Peasants” is a cautionary tale about many things, including lust’s fickleness and the importance of reading the room. Optics mean something, whether or not a person wants to admit it. They rely on and live by them. As the story evolves, the village’s goodwill towards Jagna plummets. And it guides our main characters to one of the most electrifying and intense climaxes in recent movie memoriam.

It is the mesmeric combination of Łukasz Rostkowski’s rousing musical score and the accompanying artwork. It took more than two years and over one hundred painters for the live-action version of the film to be transformed into the unique animation viewers see. If the style feels familiar, the same creative team behind the 2017 hand-painted sensation “Loving Vincent” worked on “The Peasants.”

The intensity of “The Peasants” is a towering accomplishment.

You can feel the crescendo building with an organic fever that practically boils over. Kamila Urzędowska’s performance is mesmerizing and wide-ranging with emotion. She brings Jagna through her girl-like era into womanhood with a carefully crafted gaze. Urzędowska’s best scene is with the equally equipped Sonia Mietielica as Antek’s long-suffering wife, Hanka.

The scene is a confrontation, and the emotion these talented actresses imbue is so tangible you can practically taste it. If it were not brought to life by hand-paintings, it would have played with even more intensity. “The Peasants” almost needs the barrier to protect the audience from the engrossing heat of its story.

Final Thoughts

While thoroughly based on Władysław Reymont’s identically titled Nobel Prize-winning novel, a lot of the story reminds me of Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Malena.” Unlike the Italian film’s title character, Jagna is not sympathetic, making what “The Peasants” tries to say harder to nail down.

Greed, lust, love, and paranoia are strange bedfellows. They can each lead to a string of sleepless nights. “The Peasants” is a captivating story that sees dreams turn into nightmares. The ending will leave you riveted and breathless.

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