The Mill and the Cross
A remarkably ambitious project, in the slender tradition of recreating paintings on film, The Mill and the Cross delves into Brueghel’s “The Way To Calvary” to present everyday vignettes of peasant life, Rutger Hauer as the artist musing on his method, and Michael York as his wealthy patron, ruing the follies of man and pointing out that Christ’s red-coated guards in the picture are actually the Low Countries’ sixteenth-century Spanish overlords. The production design team go all out (great peasant fashions, albeit glaringly ungrubby) and director/co-cinematography Lech Majewski frequently conjures lovely northern light interiors, with inky shadows, plentiful doorway framings, and through the windows, glorious glimpses of the painted mountains outside.
The artistic, political and human elements of the film are given little substance, however - the vignettes remain no more than that - for those mountains are the point: the film as a whole coasts by on the wonder that it has been done at all, for Majewski goes one better than Godard, Greenaway, et al, by using extensive CGI to place much of the film within the painted ‘set’ of Brueghel‘s semi-fantastical landscape. Beneath the spindly mill-topped finger-mountain, the painted field teems with moving figures and the brutishness of medieval life. Majewski takes us inside the landscape to show the breaking wheel go up and a woman (inexplicably) buried alive, Charlotte Rampling vaguely mourning as Mary, and Breughal strolling through his terrain until having God on high (the miller) raise his hand to still the tableau.
The use of the painted landscape – beneath real clouds, eventually found in New Zealand (where else?) – is inspired, the seductive blue-green of the middle-distance rockscape reproduced to perfection, and the mountain itself comes majestically to life for the dramatic (non-dramatic?) climax as the action freezes. But it’s not all good. The wonky perspective in the full-canvas views is a bit much, even for 1564, but far worse are the frequently buzzing edges and glaringly artificial light of the blue-screen elements and a jarringly emphatic sound design. It truly is a wonder that it has been done at all, a valuable celebration of a wonderful piece of art and occasionally stunning in its alchemical mixture of photography and painting. But with such undercooked textual substance, the film’s main strength is the illusion that we have indeed passed into Brueghel’s picture, and it is with fatal frequency that we are reminded that we have not.
d Lech Majewski p Lech Majewski, Feddy Olsen, Dorota Roszkowska sc Michael Francis Gibson, Lech Mejewski ph Lech Majewski, Adam Sikora ad Stanislaw Porczyk m Lech Majewski, Józef Skrzek cast Rutger Hauer, Michael York, Charlotte Rampling, Oskar Huliczka, Joanna Litwin
(2011, Swe/Pol, 93m)