The Peasants: This Polish yarn of haystack sex and cabbage parties is a waste of paint

Forty-thousand oil paintings were used to make the film, an astonishing, laborious feat akin to putting lipstick on a pig

The Peasants
    
Director: DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman
Cert: 16
Genre: Animation
Starring: Kamila Urzędowska, Robert Gulaczyk, Mirosław Baka, Sonia Mietielica, Ewa Kasprzyk, Cyprian Grabowski, Cezary Łukaszewicz
Running Time: 1 hr 56 mins

DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman’s follow-up to Loving Vincent uses the same painstaking, hand-drawn approach that prettified the film-makers’ 2017 animated biopic of Van Gogh. Forty-thousand or so oil paintings were used to make The Peasants, an astonishing and laborious feat. The effect, alas, is not unlike putting lipstick on a pig.

The film, adapted from Władysław Reymont’s early 20th-century cycle – a book that occupies a Peig Sayers-sized space in Polish culture – features a much-maligned village beauty, Jagna (Kamila Urzędowska), who is given to late-Malickian twirling in turn-of-the-century serf country. In a place where “He’s coming around with vodka” is a multipurpose term that suggests a young man is calling to propose by way of drunken seduction, Jagna can expect all the booze.

Unhappily, her singular (and unexpected) talent for paper cutouts belies her appalling taste in men, notably Antek (Robert Gulaczyk), a handsome neighbour with a penchant for shirtless basket-carrying and a killer chat-up line: “Are you coming to tomorrow’s cabbage party?” It hardly matters that he is already married to Hanka (Sonia Mietielica). Or that they have children. Or that Antek’s elderly father-in-law has agreed to sign over a parcel of land for Jagna’s hand in marriage. The next thing you know, Antek and Jagna are naked and fleeing a burning haystack where they’ve been discovered mid-hook-up.

The cartoonishly written characters are bafflingly inconsistent. The language is a melange of horrible, misogynistic swearing – “Get to your kennel, bitch” – that might have worked if we were heading into the historical slut-shaming of The Scarlet Letter. Instead we get a disingenuous shot of the witless heroine’s bikini wax as she’s rounded on by an angry mob. Her lipstick – is that Ruby Woo by Mac? – is never smudged, and, in common with the wattle-hut interiors that look like Ikea decals, her mascara never runs.


There is some fun to be derived from supposedly maggoty peasants muttering rosaries against inclement weather while looking as if they’ve been styled for the Emmanuelle reboot. But not enough to justify a feature film, let alone all those paintings.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic