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Peter T Chattaway

The Mill and the Cross (2011)

89 posts in this topic

I thought it was primarily a film about a painting, and a painter's method, and a creative consideration of how to read a painting... and a tribute to a painter's skill and style through a beautiful fusion of animation and cinematography... and an excuse to construct the Mill, which enthralled me as one of the most extraordinary sets/environments I've seen on the big screen.

But I suppose I could be wrong.

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I think it could have been that movie, Jeff, but wasn't. If that was the movie, where e.g. does the Judas figure fit in, who isn't the painting at all? By the time he

hanged himself,

it had turned into a passion play, but a deeply confused and pitiful passion play (IMO).

Edited by David Smedberg

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And here I thought folks would have trouble with the distant watching Miller. Of course, for me that is one of the most interesting, and possible most meaningful, concepts in the film.

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I thought it was primarily a film about a painting, and a painter's method, and a creative consideration of how to read a painting... and a tribute to a painter's skill and style through a beautiful fusion of animation and cinematography.

That was my first reaction too, but let me name-drop some films as examples of why this film doesn't work (very much) on those terms for me.

Jacques Rivette's LA BELLE NOISEUSE -- MILL didn't have really anything on technique or any(?) scenes of Bruegel actually painting, as distinct from sketching. THOSE two or three sketching scenes do work quite well on the terms you describe, but Majewski never really commits to that like Rivette does. He also has a far-less fascinating character dynamic -- no artist-model(s) tension here.

Altman's VINCENT AND THEO -- This film has its problems in my opinion, but at least has a strong relationship between the brothers and Altman commits to it. Here, there's at most two out-of-painting characters and their relationship is barely sketched.

Peter Greenaway's NIGHTWATCHERS -- Even if Greenaway is full of bovine excrement on the history and critical points, and I think he is, his Rembrandt is a (rare for PG) fascinating (if eccentric) human being and Martin Freeman (rare for PG) acts in a fascinating (if eccentric) register. Rutger Hauer and Michael York are flat on the screen, where not laughably declamatory. Certainly, the only place MILL goes is the political background and/or the Passion Play, both of which I think rather wan on their own terms.

Greenaway's REMBRANDT'S J'ACCUSE -- Now HERE is a real work of painting criticism on film, which is ultimately I was hoping MILL would be. In J'ACCUSE, Greenaway (perhaps self-aggrandizingly) actually walks you through the painting in a way that's genuinely provocative and focused on the work. Here you get a few moments in the Bruegel sketching scenes and a sense of the painting's elements and their "offstage" life, but it's not terribly surprising. Maybe it's because THE WAY TO CALVARY is a critically cleaner work than (Greenaway's version of) THE NIGHT WATCH.

.. and an excuse to construct the Mill, which enthralled me as one of the most extraordinary sets/environments I've seen on the big screen.

Oh absolutely. The physical plant, and the way the painting animates at some places and not others (and different ones throughout our many views of it) are a technical marvel and gorgeous eye candy. I did give the film a 5-grade after all; it's not worthless or an abject failure. I just wanted something else as well -- either critical or human.

Edited by vjmorton

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even the Calvinist heretic who should've cottoned to such a fruit-flavored line reading as "all they want is REFORM!!!"

I was too busy being impressed that we never saw the face of Jesus, lest the idol worshippers in the audience be tempted. ;)

Unlike David, I warmed to the film a bit during the passion sequence, but found the film often inert and, for a movie depicting (to some extent) the greatest story ever told, rather inconsequential, even lifeless at times.

I didn't hate it. I'm not used to the nuances of Victor's 10-point scale, but I'd come down at about 2 stars out of 4 (maybe 2.5, if I'm feeling generous), which, I would guess, is a pretty close match to 5 out of 10.

Perhaps the worst that can be said about the film is how quickly the three of us dispatched with it during our post-viewing discussion so that we could get to other, more interesting film-related conversation.

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Ebert:

How often do we find ourselves entering a painting? Sitting on Van Gogh's bed? The discovery of perspective encouraged us to think of paintings as spaces available to us.

The title suggests the execution in this case is of Christ; the painting transposes his Crucifixion into another land and time. The theme is the same: Death justified by invaders on religious or nationalistic grounds. But Christ is not the central figure of the painting; the group around the christ-figure are part of hundreds of figures, most of them not concerned.

This is a theme found in another famous Bruegel painting, "The Fall of Icarus," concerning the legend of the young man who built wings and attempted to fly. He flew too close to the sun, which melted the wax in his wings, and he fell to his death in the sea.

This painting is also a vast land and sea scape in which the event in the title is simply a detail in the busy rush of life--two legs disappearing into the ocean, easy not to see. Bruegel is in reaction to the tradition of narrative painting where the subject is the focus of attention. His painting shows the full sweep of Fleming society, of people and animals going about their daily affairs, most of them unaware of the great event that is taking place.

Of the film's extraordinary artistry and beauty I will write in my review. My concern today is with the way the film selects one detail in the canvas and explains it. On the right side there is a pole fixed in the ground with a wagon wheel attached to its top. From this wheel something is hanging. A black bird attends it...

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I like Ebert and like that not-review (I, too, was interested in the purpose of that wheel, and horrified when it was revealed -- maybe the only moment of emotion I felt during the first half of the film), but my first response to Jeffrey's post was to think of Ebert's review of The Big Year, which I just pulled up a couple of days ago on the Ebert Presents at the Movies website.

He liked The Big Year.

That's ... generous.

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I had the chance to see this, and I found the landscape. the living canvas to be mesmerizing, particulary the opening shot. The characters live their lives. Playfulness and cruelty are on display. The artist moves in and out of his work, seeing and recording. The miller stands observing.

Coming from an Evangelical background, I had a hard time relating to the Passion being placed seemingly in the background of everything that is going on. But I did respect the superior artistry of the painting and the way the film brought the painting to life. And the film does provide plenty to think about concerning the mystery and enigma of theology. This is definitely one of the more unique cinematic experiences I have had in some time.

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My review.

There is a moment in The Mill & the Cross in which the power of art, in particular sacred art, to capture the eternal in the hugger-mugger of ordinary life—even in the most horrific and seemingly meaningless events—is revealed with stunning clarity. André Bazin, the great Catholic film critic and theorist, wrote about the mission of art to rescue the world from transience and corruption, to capture moments and events in time and space before they slip into the irretrievable past, and so bear witness to the hand of God in creation. I don't know if I've ever seen this idea more resoundingly affirmed than in The Mill & the Cross.
Edited by SDG

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My review.

Superb review, Sudge. I was going to post that final paragraph, which is right on the money, but in the spirit of

If that description intrigues you and makes you want to see the film, I almost think you should stop reading here until you've had a chance to see it, especially if you're lucky enough to catch it on the big screen. I've seen The Mill & the Cross twice, and I'm grateful that I went into my first screening stone cold, without having read a single review or description.
, I won't.

I'm intrigued that you invoke the Crying Game Proviso on this one, though I understand it. Usually I avoid reading about a film before I've seen it just on general principle, but in this case I read several pieces before the screening, and it didn't occur to me that that had diminished my appreciation. But I realize now that I got lucky: none of the write-ups were specific enough to rob me of the experience of getting lost from time to time, having to pay close attention to figure out what I was seeing and how it connected with the whole, which is one of the film's chief pleasures.

And which, come to think of it, is one of the chief pleasures of the painting.

And thanks for clarification about the three versions of the book. I'm getting tempted to shell out the sixty bucks or whatever it is for the most recent version of the book. Damn you, Greydanus!

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I'm getting tempted to shell out the sixty bucks or whatever it is for the most recent version of the book. Damn you, Greydanus!

Some of us still feel a little bad that we shelled out $11 to see the film. ;)

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I'm getting tempted to shell out the sixty bucks or whatever it is for the most recent version of the book. Damn you, Greydanus!

Some of us still feel a little bad that we shelled out $11 to see the film. ;)

Some of you are uncultured morons. ;)

He says in a tone of respectful and mutually affirmative affection.

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I'm getting tempted to shell out the sixty bucks or whatever it is for the most recent version of the book. Damn you, Greydanus!

Some of us still feel a little bad that we shelled out $11 to see the film. ;)

Some of you are uncultured morons. ;)

He says in a tone of respectful and mutually affirmative affection.

To which I respond: "Four stars my @$!"

In a mutually affirmative way. :)

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Great review, Steven. And in the immortal words of Crissie Hynde,

When the night falls on you, baby

You're feeling all alone

You won't be on your own

I'll stand by you

I'll stand by you

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Thanks, gents.

I enjoyed writing that review because it challenged me to do a lot of work to provide as much context as possible for the viewer. When I can do that, I feel that I'm providing a real service.

Ron, where do you see the new edition of the book for sale? I read about it on the movie website, but I can't find anywhere to buy it. It's not at Amazon.

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I'm getting tempted to shell out the sixty bucks or whatever it is for the most recent version of the book. Damn you, Greydanus!

Some of us still feel a little bad that we shelled out $11 to see the film. ;)

Some of you are uncultured morons. ;)

He says in a tone of respectful and mutually affirmative affection.

Ron Reed has an excellent point. Even if he misidentifies the proper recipients of his opprobrium.

/but yes, affection

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Thanks, gents.

I enjoyed writing that review because it challenged me to do a lot of work to provide as much context as possible for the viewer. When I can do that, I feel that I'm providing a real service.

Ron, where do you see the new edition of the book for sale? I read about it on the movie website, but I can't find anywhere to buy it. It's not at Amazon.

So then my tweet-review is correct and I didn't "not get" the movie -- it IS the greatest coffee-table book ever.

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So then my tweet-review is correct and I didn't "not get" the movie -- it IS the greatest coffee-table book ever.

I don't quarrel with that assessment at all. I demur, but I don't quarrel, and I would never say you "didn't get" the film on that basis. (It's a phrase I usually avoid, since it's used way too liberally to express mere disagreement, and it generally annoys the heck out of me.)

What elicited that response in this case was what I took to be your non sequitur comment about whether heretics were crucified in 16th-century Flanders.

To use a term I coined oh-so-pedantically in the thread on Winnie-the-Pooh, but which is perfectly at home here, there's a diegetic blurriness in the film, reflecting the historico-cultural eclecticism of the painting. Bruegel is working on the painting, and the subject of the painting unfolds before our eyes. The riders are Spanish police and Roman soldiers. Characters are 16th-century Christians and contemporaries of Jesus. Heretics are mounted on cartwheels and the Savior is crucified.

Or perhaps I didn't get the point of your question?

Edited by SDG

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Corrected the word in red in my last post.

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Landmark's E St. theater, showing the company's customary patience with arthouse films that need time for word-of-mouth to build, announces in its newsletter that this film will end its two-week run Thursday:

Leaving Thursday, 10/27:

E Street: THE MILL & THE CROSS

Or maybe word of mouth just ain't that good?

Seriously, although I didn't care much for Mill, the way Landmark treats its films leaves a lot to be desired.

Edited by Christian

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Landmark's E St. theater, showing the company's customary patience with arthouse films that need time for word-of-mouth to build, announces in its newsletter that this film will end its two-week run Thursday:

You're lucky - it only got a week in L.A.

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You're lucky - it only got a week in L.A.

Only two showings in Vancouver.

Thus sparing hundreds, or even thousands, the tedium and expense.

Edited by Ron Reed

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