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The Mill and the Cross (2011)

Lech Majewski

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#21 Ron Reed

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Posted 02 October 2011 - 09:54 PM

In 2005, the writer and art critic Michael Francis Gison saw Lech Majewski's Angelus in a cinema in Paris. Fascinated by the director's painterly vision, he giave him a copy of his book The Mill and the Cross, an analysis of Pieter Bruegel's painting The Way to Calvary.

Thanks, Darrel. The book on Amazon lists both as authors, so I'm wondering if it includes photos from the film or something?

Edited by Ron Reed, 02 October 2011 - 09:55 PM.


#22 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 03:14 AM

Our very own vjmorton has just tweeted the following:

THE MILL AND THE CROSS (Majewski, Poland, 2011, 5) is it a compliment if you think a film would make the greatest coffee-table book ever? Increases my regard for Rohmer's LADY AND THE DUKE, which has similar "painted" look and for some of same purposes (the past as real) BUT which was able to tell a credible story, related to that re-presented past. Here, it's a mess -- a Passion allegory at one and same time too in the background and then too closely following (was there ANY place in Christendom that crucified heretics? I REALLY doubt it). Regardless nothing would make work the very modern performances, from esp. Rampling and Michael York (one line in particular caused me to laugh aloud, both at what was said and how York said it). Still small bits -- behavior of kids, townspeople indifference -- create start of a world and Those. Images. They really DO look like a film Bruegel would have made. Or a photographer with early-modern Flanders coffee-book assignment. Also the film's grade is really 3, but it gets 2 extra points for being a Christian work, just to piss off @gemko and @BilgeEbiri



#23 SDG

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 02:29 PM

I'm not sure Victor glommed to what the film is doing.

#24 vjmorton

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 02:47 PM

I'm not sure Victor glommed to what the film is doing.

Well if I didn't (which possibility I can't exclude), neither Christian nor David S. did either (which triple-inclines me to say "it's the film's fault"). It was a unanimous shrug from the three of us, even the Calvinist heretic who should've cottoned to such a fruit-flavored line reading as "all they want is REFORM!!!"

Edited by vjmorton, 16 October 2011 - 02:49 PM.


#25 David Smedberg

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 03:56 PM

I'm not sure Victor glommed to what the film is doing.

It was trying desperately to do more than one thing. Did you think it succeeded at something?

#26 Overstreet

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 03:57 PM

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.

#27 David Smedberg

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 04:07 PM

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

Edited by David Smedberg, 16 October 2011 - 04:08 PM.


#28 Darrel Manson

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 04:50 PM

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.

#29 vjmorton

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 06:17 PM

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.


#30 Christian

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Posted 16 October 2011 - 07:14 PM

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.

#31 Overstreet

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 12:01 PM

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...



#32 Christian

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Posted 17 October 2011 - 12:26 PM

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.

#33 SDG

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 11:38 AM

He liked The Big Year.

That's ... generous.

Subsequent Big Year discussion spun off to new thread.

#34 SDG

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 01:25 PM

He liked The Big Year.

That's ... generous.

Subsequent Big Year discussion spun off to new thread. merged with existing thread.



#35 Scholar's Parrot

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 08:23 PM

Since I won't be able to see this in theaters, I am being consoled by the Instant Watch appearance of the original.

#36 Crow

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 02:36 PM

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.

#37 SDG

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Posted 21 October 2011 - 08:33 AM

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, 21 October 2011 - 08:33 AM.


#38 Ron Reed

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Posted 21 October 2011 - 11:30 AM

[quote name='SDG' date='21 October 2011 - 06:33 AM' timestamp='1319204006' post='261175']
My review.

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

#39 Christian

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Posted 21 October 2011 - 11:36 AM

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. ;)

#40 Ron Reed

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Posted 21 October 2011 - 11:39 AM


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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