The Peasant of the Danube

Jean de la Fontaine is one of the most recognizable figures in French literature. His fables and poems have gained worldwide acclaim for their simple structure, coupled with profound meanings. In 'The Peasant of the Danube', a poor peasant with a ragged, unkempt appearance gives a long and thoughtful speech before the Roman Senate, in an attempt to better the fate of his people, whose quiet existence had been upset by the marching Roman troops.

 

The experimental short film with the same name takes the text from La Fontaine’s poem and places it into a surreal context, from where it can more universally radiate its meanings rather than from a fixed position in time and place.

 

The idea behind how the film adaptation is imagined and structured is an intriguing one, relying on the peasant’s monologue that is set in an abstract location and features an imaginary audience. The claps and cheers from nothingness almost remind of David Lynch’s stroke of genius from his short, 'Rabbits'.

 

As he speaks, the image of the peasant constantly rotates – sometimes clockwise, other times anti-clockwise. The rotation can hold a plurality of metaphorical meanings – the lack of anything to hide, an amalgam of perspectives, and, perhaps most importantly, the idea of circularity.

 

Circularity is important to highlight, because many of the themes addressed in La Fontaine’s poem back in the 17th century are still very much present nowadays, four centuries later. As director Jean Arneau Filtness states, a multiplicity of topics, including ethics, economics, ecology, and sociology, can constitute departure points for parallels being drawn between the present state of the world and the words of the peasant. The unique setting, abstract elements, circularity and evolution of the imagery make 'The Peasant of the Danube' a remarkable if imperfect creation.

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