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The Mill and the Cross (2011)

Lech Majewski

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#1 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 02:45 PM

Dennis Harvey @ Variety:
 

An extraordinary imaginative leap, Lech Majewski's "The Mill and the Cross" combines old and new technologies allowing the viewer to live inside the painting -- Flemish master Pieter Bruegel's 1564 "The Procession to Calvary," an epic canvas depicting both Christ's crucifixion and the artist's homeland brutalization by Spanish occupiers. Neither conventional costume drama nor abstract objet d'art, this visually ravishing, surprisingly beguiling gamble won't fit any standard arthouse niche. Still it could prove the Polish helmer's belated international breakthrough, especially if marketed as a unique, immersive museum-meets-cinema experience a la Alexander Sokurov's "Russian Ark."

Opening setpiece stages the complex painting via a combination of live actors (and horses), bluescreen effects and 2D backdrops. Its crowded landscape features some 500 historical, religious, contemporary and symbolic figures, with biblical travails depicted alongside sufferings of Flemish citizens persecuted by representatives of the Spanish inquisition. We continually revisit this tableau, in whole and part, while other scenes are frequently modeled on several other paintings by Bruegel the Elder.

Representing God atop an enormous windmill tower is a miller (Marian Makula) impassively regarding various scenes from his lofty perch. They include the seizure by red-coated militia of one peasant (Mateusz Machnik) who is tortured and killed for presumed heresy. Later, another hapless soul is literally crucified for some other crime.

Periodically commenting sorrowfully on this state of affairs -- either alone or in conversation with the artist -- is a wealthy burgher (Michael York) appalled by the invaders' misrule, even if he himself seems immune from harm. A mother (Charlotte Rampling) whose son has been dragged off to slaughter delivers in voiceover lamentations that are more personal and poetic; she is also the painting's Virgin Mary model. Meanwhile, Breughel himself (Rutger Hauer) bemusedly explains the hidden meanings scattered throughout his masterwork, often in the form of conflated religious allegory and political protest.

Not everything is grim here, however. Indeed much of "The Mill and the Cross" delights, with episodes of rambunctious humor among some rural ne'er-do-wells and a roving pack of joyfully rowdy children. Life does go on, despite the climate of fear and cruelty. . . .

Joe Bendel @ Libertas:
 

It is impossible to hang a pat label on Mill. Though it screened as part of Sundance’s New Frontier track for more experimental work, such a rubric really does not fit Majewski’s film. It certainly is not non-narrative filmmaking, since it encompasses the greatest story ever told. However, it completely challenges linear notions of time, incorporating Christ’s Passion and the world of 1564 Flanders, in which Bruegel and Jongelinck are simultaneous observers and active participants.

Years in the making, Mill is an extraordinarily ambitious undertaking. Majewski represents the social continuum of Sixteenth Century Flanders, recreating the mean living conditions of the peasants, the clean, unadorned quarters of the relatively middle class Bruegel, and the privileged environment of the well-to-do Jongelinck. Majewski’s visuals are often arresting, like the scenes of art director Stanislaw Porczyk’s towering mill, which resembles the enormous set pieces of Terry Gilliam films. Perhaps most stunning are the wide shots of the Cavalry landscape, with the figures literally coming alive on Bruegel’s canvas. Yet, Majewski also captures moments of both tender intimacy and graphic torture, rendered with powerful immediacy.

Indeed, the wealthy collector clearly serves as the conscience of the film, decrying the capricious religious persecution that was a fact of life for Flanders under the Militia. Despite the almost overwhelming visual sweep of the film, Michael York gives a finely tuned performance as Jongelinck that really sneaks up on viewers. Rutger Hauer (worlds away from his other Sundance film Hobo with a Shotgun) also brings a forceful heft to the rather mysterious artist. . . .



#2 techne

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Posted 03 February 2011 - 10:07 PM

he had me at brueghel...

#3 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 02:33 AM

he had me at brueghel...

Wow ... smack! out of the middle of nowhere we suddenly have one of the most interesting films of the year.

I could almost put that trailer on loop and watch it for an hour.

#4 Ryan H.

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 07:01 AM

Oh man, I wanna see this.

#5 Ron Reed

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 03:29 PM

Thanks, Peter. What a find! And just yesterday I was reading an article that said Christian themes were everywhere at Sundance, then listed a pile of more-or-less believer-as-bad-guy flicks and scraped to find some sort of less-than-cynical angle among them. With no mention of this one. Silly journalist...

#6 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 05 February 2011 - 12:41 AM

Figured we might as well also give Bruegel his own thread at A&F. His paintings have always amazed me. Whenever I see them in a film, on the internet, or in a book I always feel like, to really do him justice, I need to look at them covering an entire wall.

#7 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 28 April 2011 - 03:34 PM

New Majewski movie opens to rave reviews -

It turns out that the director fell under the spell of Bruegel while still a child, as Majewski discovered the painter during trips to Venice to stay with his uncle. Whilst on the way, the family would always stop in Vienna, where the main attraction was the sweeping Kunsthistorisches Museum, which boasts an entire room of Bruegels. “I lived in those paintings,” Majewski revealed. “To me, they were much more interesting than cinema.”

Majewski believes that we have lost the quality of spirituality that previous ages had, and he does not mince his words in laying into what he calls “the bottomless idiocy” of today’s celebrity culture. “I'm standing in opposition to this tendency,” he affirmed. The director, himself a painter, says he feels absolutely at home amidst the forgotten symbols that were so commonly used by artists of previous epochs. “I work at my own rhythm,” he said, “because it's the only one I know.”

... Majewski confirmed that aside from Spanish sensation Pedro Almodovar, he had little time for contemporary directors, preferring old school legends like Fellini, Visconti, Tarkovsky and Bunuel, who he believes had one key quality lacking today, namely “depth.”


Edited by Persiflage, 28 April 2011 - 03:35 PM.


#8 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 05 September 2011 - 08:13 AM

Limited release opening September 14 (just New York?) and then October 7.

Andrea Kirsh -

The film is suffused with Bruegel’s profound understanding that for most people, life simply goes on, despite the occurrence of events both dreadful and divine. So, within the course of a day a miller and his wife awake, a farming couple set off for market, Spanish soldiers attack the man, presumably for heresy, the artist’s wife feeds her children and kisses her infant’s stomach as she diapers him; it’s an ordinary day, when nothing much happens, the day the Savior was crucified.

Majewski captures Bruegel’s truth that great events occur amidst the shapeless narrative of everyday life. Just as remarkable is the effect he creates of taking us into the actual space of Bruegel’s painting. His characters, in perfect period costumes (if a bit too clean) and cast with remarkable fidelity to Bruegel’s coarse-featured peasants, move in and out of the painting as landscape settings switch between filmed and painted image. While other filmmakers have recreated paintings by showing models posing (Derek Jarman in Caravaggio, Peter Weber in Girl With a Pearl Earring) the illusion of the painting itself as permeable to life is novel and startlingly effective.



#9 Darrel Manson

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Posted 05 September 2011 - 10:41 AM

Limited release opening September 14 (just New York?) and then October 7.

LA release 9/30

#10 Ron Reed

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Posted 05 September 2011 - 12:19 PM

VIFF 2011

Yay

#11 Overstreet

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Posted 24 September 2011 - 07:59 PM

I have *got* to get out and see this. Here's a new review at indieWire.

To say Majewski’s free-flowing narrative is attempting total immersion is to ignore that, through this elaborate visual style, “The Mill And The Cross” is at once alive, vital even, and also dormant, quiet. Though the sound design seems thick with activity, it feels more of an in-tandem product with the visual style. Majewski pays his respects to “The Way To Cavalry” by turning it into a 3D experience. You feel the crows’ beaks attack carcasses strewn on the side of the road. You shrink from the grasping hands of needy, playful children ready for dinner. Majewski’s characters don’t feel like people filling in the margins, but like a real society trapped in a unique, ethereal world.

As Bruegel, Rutger Hauer is wonderfully nuanced, giving a forceful, commanding performance that holds the screen, even as the film’s visually-stunning tableau glides through. He floats in and out of his own work, tracing the outlines of complex cobwebs in order to build the artifice of his creation. The lines on his face, the crevasse of his cheek, they’ve never been more expressive, more fascinating. In a film loaded with endlessly inventive riches for the eye, it’s Hauer whom you can’t look away from. [A]



#12 Darrel Manson

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Posted 24 September 2011 - 08:27 PM

I wish I knew how widely this is going to distribute. I know it plays at NuArt here starting next week, but don't know if there is any hope of it getting to OC where most of the people I know who'd like it would prefer to see it.

#13 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 11:45 AM

I'm seeing it Saturday morning (my birthday, as it happens, though I was actually born in the afternoon) with Ron Reed at the Vancouver International Film Festival. 'Twould be awesome if other A&Fers joined us.

#14 Overstreet

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Posted 27 September 2011 - 11:52 AM

So far, it's the only movie I've considered rating higher than The Tree of Life on my list of 2011 favorites. See it on the big screen if you possibly can. I'm hoping to see it near the top of both of CT's year-end lists for 2011.

Edited by Overstreet, 27 September 2011 - 11:53 AM.


#15 Darrel Manson

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Posted 30 September 2011 - 10:10 AM

my review

It's playing at the NuArt in LA this week. Have no idea if it will go elsewhere in the area. I'm encouraging everyone I know around here to make the trip.

#16 Christian

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Posted 02 October 2011 - 03:32 PM

"Part of what makes The Mill & the Cross so exciting is that it achieves that rarest of things, making us feel that we are seeing something very worthwhile that has never been done before." -- Kristen Thompson

#17 Ron Reed

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Posted 02 October 2011 - 04:58 PM

Everything I hoped it would be.

Apparently the director has also done a book called "The Mill And The Cross." Need to track that down.

The dialogue doesn't refer directly to Auden's poem of course, but certainly makes the same point.

*

Musee des Beaux Arts
W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

#18 Overstreet

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Posted 02 October 2011 - 05:34 PM

Everything I hoped it would be.


Woo hoo!! So glad you saw it on the big screen, Ron.

#19 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 02 October 2011 - 05:40 PM

The chat after the screening was fun. Wish it could have gone longer. And I'm reluctant to say anything about the film HERE for fear that it will be a pale shadow of that discussion. :)

#20 Darrel Manson

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Posted 02 October 2011 - 08:13 PM

Apparently the director has also done a book called "The Mill And The Cross." Need to track that down.

I think the book is by the co-writer, Michael Francis Gibson.

Prom press notes:

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.







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