The Polish film "The Mill and the Cross" was co-written and directed by Lech Majewski It stars Rutger Hauer as Pieter Bruegel, and co-stars Charlotte Rampling and Michael York.
The film consists of an attempt to bring to life Bruegel's 1564 painting, "The Procession to Calvary." I have seen this painting in the Kunsthistoriche Museum in Vienna. Once you've seen it, you don't forget it, because it is filled with people and action. (Although, in the painting, Jesus has just collapsed under the weight of the cross, so, in a sense, action has been frozen for a few seconds.)
The painting is also remarkable for a very strange symbol--a windmill placed high atop a stony crag. In the film, Bruegel explains that the miller looks down from his mill and sees everything that is happening below, just as God looks down from heaven and can see everything. So, the mill and the miller work symbolically. However, in a practical sense, the mill would never be that high on an large, steep, stony crag. If a mill were really in that location, no one could bring the wheat to the mill or take away the flour.
The other dominant vertical structure is a cartwheel, raised high on a long pole. This was the device used by the Spanish rulers of the Netherlands to execute and display prisoners. The prisoner was tied to the wheel, and the wheel was hoisted far up in the air. The device prevented anyone from helping the person--if alive--or removing the body. Only the carrion birds could reach the body, which they did, with predictable results.
Technology in the 21st Century makes everything possible, so it's no surprise that the painting is reproduced in the film in a real landscape. Sometimes all the figures are frozen, but other times you can see a cow moving or some other action taking place. The special effects are routine by now, but the manner in which they are used is not routine.
We really have the sense that we are looking at a landscape, and the artist is putting it down on canvas before our eyes. This is a highly creative way to look at life the way an artist sees it, and then look at the way life is transformed and committed to canvas.
We saw this film on the large screen at the excellent Rochester Polish Film Festival. It really will work better in a theater. However, if that's not an option, it's worth seeing on DVD.
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