THE PEASANTS (TIFF 2023) – Review by Leslie Combemale

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Normally I don’t review a movie on which I am conducting an interview, but I loved The Peasants so much, I had to make an exception. This is the second animated feature by directing wife and husband team Dorota Kobiela Welchman and Hugh Welchman after their Oscar-nominated success Loving Vincent. Based on a novel of the same name by Nobel lauriate Wladyslaw Reymont, it features the technique created by the company for Loving Vincent. Using painting animators working on specially designed PAWS units (Painting Animation Work Stations), live action footage is used to create oil paintings, which make up the finished imagery seen in the film.

Reymont, who was a writer part of the Young Poland movement in art, music, and literature, built a story in The Peasants that spoke to the traditions, culture, and daily lives of people in one village. The book is very famous in Polish classic literature, and features the lives of a rich farmer named Boryna, his son Antek, Antek’s wife Hanka, and a young, beautiful female artist named Jagna. DK and Hugh Welshman’s film focuses on Jagna, showing the arc of her character from the time she is wild and carefree, choosing to take Antek as a lover, to her mother forcing her to marry Boryna, to her downfall via the judgment and hatred of the villagers. She becomes a casualty of the patriarchy and bad religion, and the women around her are willing accomplices.

If this sounds depressing, it is. It’s a thousand-page Eastern European book written between 1904 and 1909, so that can’t be a shock. There’s certainly more than a little witch-trial vibe to the proceedings, and the women in 1600s Salem were also casualties of bad religion, so that tracks. It’s also excruciatingly beautiful to look at, and the artistry of the oil paintings fits the story perfectly, with the styles used, many of which are inspired by artists of the Young Poland movement, evoking the aesthetics of the era.

What The Peasants shows, as an advance from the work of Loving Vincent, is that this technique of paintings as animation can be used in ever more ambitious ways. There are, among other things, battle scenes, dances, and complicated camera shots showing the change of the seasons, and all of it works. It does more than work, it brings a classic to life in a way that articulates Wladyslaw Reymont’s artistic sensibilities.

5 out of 5 stars.

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Leslie Combemale

Leslie Combemale writes as Cinema Siren on her own website,, and is a frequent contributor to MPA's, where she interviews filmmakers above and below the line, with a focus on women and diverse voices. She is the Senior Contributor at Leslie is in her 9th year as producer and moderator of the influential "Women Rocking Hollywood" panel at San Diego Comic-Con. She is a world-renowned expert on cinema art and her film art gallery, ArtInsights, located near DC, has celebrated cinema art and artists for 30 years.