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The Mill And The Cross

A Bruegel masterpiece comes to life on the cinema screen

Even before the opening credits run, The Mill & The Cross casts a transfixing spell, as Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the great 16th-century Flemish artist, chats with his patron Nicholas Jonghelinck while he sketches studies for a large work he is preparing. Then the camera pulls back, blending scores of actors and animals with computer-generated effects, painted backdrops and location shots to restage Bruegel’s 1564 masterpiece, The Way to Calvary. Directed by the Polish filmmaker and video artist Lech Majewski, The Mill & The Cross has ambitions as sweeping as the vast canvas that Bruegel fills. In this lush and hypnotic examination of a painter’s work and the times in which he lived, Mr. Majewski presents an extended contemplation of the creative process itself. As social commentary, Bruegel’s depictions of life in Flanders were meticulously detailed. As a sly subversive, he had a gift for telling a hidden story to those who knew how to look for it. In The Way To Calvary he shifted the Crucifixion to his own age; it isn’t Roman soldiers marching Jesus to Golgotha, it is red-jacketed Spanish militiamen, then occupying the Low Countries and waging a brutal repression of the Protestant Reformation. But it’s not easy to find Jesus staggering beneath the crucifix he carries in the teeming crowds in the landscape; surrounding the procession are hundreds of local characters, most unaware of the world-shaking event about to occur. Adapted from a book by the art critic Michael Francis Gibson, who wrote the screenplay with Mr. Majewski, the film does not offer much plot. In its stead, it portrays – for the most part wordlessly – the daily lives and often harshly casual deaths in and around 16th-century Antwerp, episodes that often wind up in Bruegel’s panorama. Peddlers sell their wares; musicians play crude instruments; woodsmen chop down trees. A young couple take their calf to market, only for the man to be set upon by soldiers, then strapped to a wheel and raised to the top of a stake, where crows gather to pick out his eyes. Observing it all dispassionately is the miller, whose windmill and granary are atop a natural stone tower, a stand-in for God ‘grinding out the bread of life and destiny,’ as Bruegel (Rutger Hauer) says to Jonghelinck (Michael York). It isn’t the artist, it’s the art that’s the star here, and Mr. Majewski lavishes sophisticated, enchanting detail on its re-creation. He’s painting cinematically and, at the film’s end we see the painting, some of its mysteries revealed, hanging next to Bruegel’s equally masterly Tower of Babel in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna; we are also left to savour an inspiring, alluring meditation about imagery and storytelling, the common coin of history, religion and art. – Daniel M. Gold, The New York Times Official Trailer
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Directed by: 
Lech Majewski
Running Time: 
Rutger Hauer, Charlotte Rampling, Michael York
Screenplay by: 
Lech Majewski Michael Francis Gibson Based on the book by Michael Francis Gibson

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