Wednesday, October 26, 2011

the mill and the cross

A few weeks ago I saw Lech Majewski's film, The Mill and the Cross - quite simply, a masterpiece.  The film is based off of Pieter Bruegel's painting, The Way to Calvary, and follows the story of 12 of the 500 or so people in the painting.

It's not your traditional film, though.  The Mill and the Cross, despite having characters, does not have a particular story line as in Girl with a Pearl Earring or other films that are based on works of art.  In fact, the dialogue is sparse (the first spoken words are half an hour into the movie, and even then the man speaks to the audience, not to his wife, who instead sits and reads her book, oblivious to his words).  The emphasis instead goes on the sounds in everyday life - a servant clomping up the huge flight of stairs in the mill, the thunder of horses' hooves as the red-caped Spanish military men ride into sight, the rustle of papers as the artist looks through his sketches.

The lack of words also has another effect - an unnerving one.  As the Spanish beat up a guy on his way to market, strap him to a wheel, raise that wheel several meters into the air on a pole, and leave his eyes to be eaten by the ravens, they do not speak.  And neither does the victim.  It's an incredibly powerful and cringe-worthy scene of cold detachment on the soldiers' end and hopeless submission on the man's end.

Cinematographically speaking, the balance (and ambiguity) between reality and painterliness is mesmerizing.  Majewski actually used a blue screen for some key scenes - like the beginning.  He painted the backdrop (the skies and landscape) and added that in later.  Crazy, huh?  The result is that of seeing people moving around inside the painting.  It's not necessarily stepping into the painting - but rather seeing the painting coming alive...and trying to swallow us up.

So basically...the movie is a must-see, perhaps even for those who are not art enthusiasts.  It has some very powerful scenes, and really gives you an appreciation for the artist (and the Dutch who lived through Philip II's inquisition).

photos courtesy of kino lorber, inc

There's also a lot of cool stuff on the film website,

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