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, 16 October 2011 - 08:10 PM.