Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home ScreenInternational Screens International Spotlight: Chłopi (2023) by DK & Hugh Welchman

International Spotlight: Chłopi (2023) by DK & Hugh Welchman

Agata Koralewska, Online International Editor, praises the Polish film Chłopi (The Peasants), especially noting the fantastic visuals and exploration of character.
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THE PEASANTS Trailer | TIFF 2023 | TIFF Trailers

Polish cinema last year has been marked with success of the animated book adaptation Chłopi (The Peasants). The Nobel winning, twentieth-century epic, written by Władysław Reymont, has been adapted into a film for the third time. The project catches attention as every scene is hand-painted and carefully animated over the video footage. The international success of the production can be linked to the directors of the film, Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela, who have already gained worldwide fame with their Van Gogh’s life adaptation: Loving Vincent that was also directed in a similar method.

The story is filled with omnipresent village imagery that attracts the viewer with its vivid colours and refreshing sights of nature. Additionally, the visuals are enhanced by layers of oil paint that give the images a fresh look, playing with the idea of crossing a barrier between film and artwork. The directors have commented that the stylistic choice is connected to Władysław Reymont’s affiliation with the “Młoda Polska” (Young Poland) art movement, which inspired from folk imagery. The stills from the film replicate the art style that was commonly used by the movement’s painters. This combination of the beauty of nature and the precision of artistic creation maintains an atmosphere that’s unique and unforgettable, capturing the viewer’s attention from the very moment of starting to watch the film.

The story is filled with omnipresent village imagery that attracts the viewer with its vivid colours and refreshing sights of nature.

Life in Polish villages in the XIX century is one of the most important themes of the story. The exploration of the main character’s romantic affairs are accompanied by the realities of life in Poland back then, and also contrasts between Jagna’s wealth and the status of the lesser peasants. Raised with a silver spoon in her mouth, Jagna is not prepared for the challenges of her youth and struggles with fitting into the village’s expectations that are put on young women. She quickly gains bad fame, not understanding her social duty to marry an old man and falling for his son instead.

The poetic, antiquated language mirrors the book it takes inspiration from and helps to set the story into its historical context. It’s believable to witness the peasants gossiping away about Jagna’s alleged affairs, amplifying the rumours that painted the girl as the village’s most vulgar mistress.

Jagna is indeed a flawed character; however, one cannot help but feel sorry for her when her sensibility and curiosity is mistaken for malicious behaviour. She knows her own value and takes profit from her looks, which results with a lot of envy from the other women. The expectations on women are one of the primary themes of the story, and religion, which has a lot of screen time, reflects how important being pious and obedient was for a young girl. Jagna, who did nothing other than follow her heart and explore the beauty given to her in the form of her body, brings out the worst behaviours and the dirt hidden deep within the darkest corners of the peasants’ minds.

Jagna is indeed a flawed character; however, one cannot help but feel sorry for her when her sensibility and curiosity is mistaken for malicious behaviour.

The soundtrack of the film reflects the folklore of 19th century Poland and amplifies the echoes of the old villages that ceased to exist, replaced by cities and technology. It’s refreshing to witness this throwback and learn about the hardships of living before the rapid progress of the modern world. The chaotic and vivacious dance scenes, accompanied by lively music are a perfect celebration of the Polish folklore, enabling the viewers to truly immerse themselves in the country’s culture.

The importance of not forgetting the folklore of one’s country is prevalent in this production’s celebration of traditional imagery and life in the olden times. It explores the darker side of small town solidarity, exposing the dangers of deep, unreasonable hatred. As a book adaptation, it omits some details, for example it gets rid of some crucial characters, however, it works well as it tells the story at a good pace. The film’s success is justified as the visuals enhance the message, and the close encounter with Polish traditions is a worthy experience.

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