The Peasants (2023) All That Work for Naught! D+

The Peasants” is a historical drama written and directed by the husband and wife duo of Hugh and DK Welchman, known for their art-house hit, “Loving Vincent.” For this film, they used the same technique of painted animation – so perfect for the paintings of Vincent van Gogh – to adapt Wladyslaw Reymont’s Nobel Prize-winning novel of the same name.

The scenes in the movie were first shot using actors. Each scene provided a template for the artists – hundreds of them working in such far-flung places like Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Serbia – who painstakingly made an oil painting, or cell, of each frame – 12 paintings were needed for each second of film. A piece of glass was then lowered onto the artwork to flatten any irregularities, and a special animation camera, a rostrum camera, photographed the composite image. The cells were removed, and the process repeated for the next frame until each sequence had been photographed. The film is then run through a projector.

The Peasants

Unfortunately, it was all for naught! The technique worked when we were immersed in the world of Van Gough and his paintings. Paintings that appear to shimmer in front of the viewer when placed on a museum wall. But it does not work here. It’s not that painted animation is antithetical to telling the story of a young, beautiful peasant girl coming of age. Someone who drives all the men wild in her nineteenth-century Polish village. It’s the source material that is the problem. Nobel be damned, this is one boring story. On the printed page, who knows? However, it’s one big yawn on film. Laughable when it should be severe and vice versa, the movie has no drive whatsoever.

All the artistry in the world is useless if the underlying story is not up to scratch.

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