Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Mill and The Cross

(image taken from Soul Food Movies)

(image taken from Rotten Tomatoes)

(image taken from Screen Daily)

(image taken from The Epoch Times)

On Thursday evening, the filmmaker and I headed to nearby Montclair and watched the latest film by Polish-American director, Lech Majewski, titled The Mill and the Cross, based on the early modern, Renaissance painting The Way to Calvary by Pieter Bruegal and the book of the same name by Michael Francis Gibson. I was not previously familiar with Majewski's work, however, my interest was immediately piqued upon seeing the brief and miniscule trailer on my computer: sweeping landscapes, sensual brutality, iconography. For anyone with an interest in Renaissance art, early modern religious conflict, computer-generated image technology, costume design, or general visual and auditory aesthetics, this film should be seen in the theater on a large screen. We were particularly lucky, as we perused current films the other day, and had caught this on its last showing in Montclair.

I cannot speak to how stringently or loosely the film follows the text, whether that text be a historical narrative or a more philosophic exercise, however, the film explores a pulsing, organic narrative of various characters from the painting, including the artist himself, as they endure the hardships and triumphs of Flemish life under the tyrannical rule of the Spanish monarch. The painting itself serves as a blatant metaphor for the passion of Christ, with a mill standing in the place of God, benevolent and steadfast and seemingly infinite in its motion and force, at a time when rashly deemed heretics were tortured and murdered by Spanish mercenaries. Similar thematics course throughout this film; the realities of injustice arising from religious and cultural prejudices become palpable to the viewer, the thrashing of sharp whips and the suffocation from burial become almost experiences.

Visually, this film is innovative and stunning; the landscape is often an unfinished canvas, portraying the clean and wild countryside of Flanders, though the natural view will ebb and flow into the story like waves. His perspective and animation approaches serve to evoke a depth, a three dimensional feel; like a painting, the scenes have a prominent foreground, middle ground, and background, each with independent flow and movement. This, coupled with moving yet subtle music, composed by the director, contributes to the overall visceral feel. Costumes were genuine, for the period and for the painting, functional, metonymic for the pragmatic yet elegant lifestyle of the various characters, following and obeying the physical demands of their body, hunger, thirst, work, love, faith, death.

Being unfamiliar with the book that in part inspired this work, if there were some greater metaphoric thrust for the piece, it remains unknown to me. As I watched, carefully observed the movement of scenery and body, movements that carried with them narrative, I was touched; this film serves to remind one of the disconnect between the life, the reality, the historical and cultural textures that were captured in this masterpiece, and our own current climate, and perceptions of the environment in which we live and interact. This disconnect traverses in both directions: the viewer, to the subjects of the film, these characters, these painted figures, who we learn were true people in a very real era of human chronology, and the subjects, the painting, to the viewer, to the museum gallery that now houses this work, recognizing its beauty and technical craft, prowess. In a sense, the film reaches to bridge this disconnect, this dissonance, and achieves this aim.


  1. this looks very interesting, I'm a big lover of film which take us back in the past and this period ( the Renaissance ) will be amazing to watch in this movie....

  2. I love this post! everything about film inspired me and interests me. thanks for sharing, i was very inspired.
    looks like i'm going to have a netflix night!

  3. Looks like an amazing educational experience---nothing like viewing great art with the artist =)

  4. Wow. I've never heard of this movie before but it sounds super interesting.


  5. I like your post. I´d wish you take some time to check out mine.