Poland’s Oscar committee has selected The Peasants, a sumptuous animated literary adaptation from Loving Vincent directors DK and Hugh Welchman, as the country’s submission for the best international feature category at the 2024 Oscars, over The Green Border, a critically-acclaimed film from two-time Oscar nominee Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, In Darkness).
The decision, announced by the committee in Warsaw Monday afternoon, comes after a concerted attack on The Green Border by Poland’s far-right government, with the justice minister and the country’s president condemning the film and comparing it to “Nazi propaganda” for its depiction of the refugee crisis on Poland’s border with Belarus.
The head of Poland’s Oscar committee, producer Ewa Puszczyńska, whose credits include the Oscar-winner Ida, the Oscar-nominated Quo vadis, Aida? and Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, the U.K. entry for the 2024 best international feature race, said deliberations were “tough and heated” this year and that the final decision came down to a 4:2 vote, though she did not mention Holland’s film by name.
The other members of the committee included Radosław Śmigulski, director of the government-backed Polish Film Institute, Corpus Christi producer Aneta Hickinbotham, EO screenwriter Ewa Piaskowska, Oscar-winning set designer Allan Starski (Schindler’s List) and two-time Oscar nominee Maciej Ślesicki, who produced 2020 live action short nominee The Dress and 2015 best documentary short subject nominee Our Curse.
The Peasants, which was co-financed by the Polish Film Institute, premiered as a special presentation at the Toronto Film Festival this year. It’s an adaptation of Polish author Wladyslaw Reymont’s Nobel Prize-winning novel, a folklore-style tale, set in a 19th-century rural Polish village, which revolves around a set of star-crossed lovers. The film was shot in the same luscious hand-painted style of Loving Vincent. In its review, The Music news called the movie “a ravishingly beautiful visual triumph.”
Citing the committee’s decision to choose The Peasants, Puszczyńska said the husband-and-wife directors had created “another stellar, impressive animated feature, that not only continues the Loving Vincent success, but actually goes further. In the committee’s opinion, The Peasants shows the new dynamic in the world of animation, where the camera is not only an observer but an active participant.”
Puszczyńska also highlighted the film’s “important and contemporary subjects” including society’s “oppression against women…sexual violence and mobbing. It’s a story that will be understood around the world, across borders and [across the] political divide.”
In Poland Holland’s The Green Border has, if anything, exacerbated the political divide. The film, which screened in Venice — where it won a special jury prize — as well as Toronto, is a fictionalized depiction of real-life events on the Polish-Belarusian border where refugees, mainly from North Africa and the Middle East, remain stranded and starving, caught in the swampy, treacherous forests between the two countries. The migrants were lured there by Belarusian propaganda promising them easy passage into the European Union and were caught when the Polish government cracked down, closing the border.
Even before the film’s premiere, Poland’s right-wing government went on the attack against The Green Border, with Poland’s justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro comparing the film to “Nazi propaganda” for its supposed negative depiction of Polish border guards. In a TV appearance, Polish President Andrzej Duda called for a boycott of the movie. Shortly before its theatrical release in Poland last Friday, Poland’s interior minister Błażej Poboży announced that a government-produced video contradicting Holland’s portrayal of events would screen ahead of every showing of The Green Border.
That didn’t seem to deter Polish audiences. According to local distributor Kino Świat, 137,000 people turned out to watch the film over its first weekend, a record for a local-language film in the territory so far this year.
But, speaking to The Music news on Monday, shortly after the Oscar committee’s decision, Holland claimed the government’s smear campaign had its desired effect, in creating an environment of fear.
“I know all the members of the [Oscar] committee and they have told me they thought my film was the best choice and would have had the best chances [at the Oscars],” Holland said, “but they are afraid the government will punish them if they picked it, by restricting grants or funding for their movies.”
Holland was quick to praise The Peasants, which she called an “excellent, artistically creative film,” noting that the committee had an easy second choice. “They didn’t pick some piece of sh** propaganda, this is a very good film and I congratulate the directors.” But she warned that the government’s attacks on her movie were further evidence of a crackdown on political dissent in the country.
When it comes to The Green Border‘s Oscar chances, Holland said she was unsure whether her production would have the means to launch an independent Academy Awards campaign. The Green Border has sold widely but has yet to close a deal for English-speaking territories, including the United States.