THE MILL AND THE CROSS
DIRECTED BY LECH MAJEWSKI
Lech Majewski gives us a hybrid film in The Mill and the Cross that goes inside the canvass of the Pieter Bruegel’s The Way to the Cavalry. On one hand the film features backdrops of canvass itself in deep focus to the painting’s subjects come to life. It is not even pretending to give an illusion to reality or grand sense of artistry that you would find in old Pressburger and Powell pictures. It remains strictly Bruegel, thanks to modern CGI technology, and therefore a transcendent marvel to look at as a viewer. On the other hand the film has a natural and slightly obsessive yet distant sensibility to it in showing the glacial pace and monotony of labor in those times and locations that lends itself to Tarkovsky and Kubrick. Still, the film remains a feast for the eyes amid its unconventionality that marries the world of Bruegel and Majewski.
The film explores what was really happening in the canvass, looking into the lives of about a dozen citizens of Flanders directly effected by the Spanish persecution of the region. There is very little dialogue said with exceptions for the film’s noticeable leads with Rutger Hauer as the observant Bruegel, Michael York as the witness Nicholaes Jonghelinck, and Charlotte Rampling as the steely-eyed Mary, mother of the Christ figure in the painting.
The symbolism that the film looks into speaks for itself and into the mind of Bruegel. Majewski is fairly disciplined, if perhaps too narrow, in his look into Bruegel’s canvass but it is completely fascinating for a film to achieve such an effect for a film that audibly says so little. It is no mistake of the last sequence in the film is having the audience being removed from the canvass. It almost feels like we were right there with Majewski if not were Majewski himself.
The Mill and the Cross may not be the most aesthetically ambitious movies of 2011 but it is certainly the most unique and different I have seen this year and in a while as a movie-goer. On a side-note, I think Rutger Hauer should just have a whole series of narrating the works of Bruegel a la Bob Ross in The Joy of Painting. He is just one of those actors I could listen to read the phone book. He is one of the many reasons why this film is so entrancing to watch.