Mlyn i krzyz (2011)
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Sadly, that's all that can be said in favor of the film.
The storyline, if there really is any, jumps around from scene to scene in a seemingly random manner. None of the characters really interact and the acting is more like posing for a painting than acting. That might have been the goal, but it doesn't work here. In a sense, it's really not a movie but it rather has the style of a dramatized documentary.
But it isn't a documentary either. At no time was any care given to real historical realism. In the film a reference is made to the city of Antwerp, but the city you can visit today (and please do, I'll give you a tour) looks more historically representative of the era than the film. I read and heard that enormous care was given to elements like the choice of the right kind of materials for the clothing. That may be true. But it brings nothing to the film as an experience, nor is it informative in any way. I read reviews where the reality with which the way of life in 16th century Flanders was depicted is greatly applauded. They are misguided. None of the building style, interiors, music or daily customs depicted are found anywhere in 16th century Flanders. They look like 13th century Poland. Because a lot of it was shot there. The landscape may resemble that of the painting, but clashes with reality. You might argue that it was the film maker's intent to closely resemble this highly symbolic painting. And I would agree. But he does this with great superficiality. It would have been much more interesting to show and contrast 16th century reality with the symbolism in the painting. But the director seems unable or unwilling to make the distinction. And thus we are left with a succession of 'tableaux' that visually resemble what's on the painting, with no reference to reality, then or now.
You might argue that the director put in a lot of symbolism, some of his own. But the way the director tries to cram every pixel (the film was recorded digitally) with symbolism seems random too: a bit like a poet who believes his job is done when his sentences rhyme in a pleasing way, never mind the content. Sometimes he even attempts to be critical or sarcastic. Watching the scenes near the end where people are dancing and singing is downright painful. But there is no message in this. No-one cares? Life goes on? Life is hard and then you die? One person might call it an ode to the resilience of the ordinary people, but it might also be a protest against the callousness of the masses. The film takes no position.
The director seems to know exactly what certain markets expect in terms of 'historical Europe' but seems to have no interest in the history and culture itself.
If you are interested in a better film where symbolism, tempo, acting and story have a meaning, then I refer you to a real masterpiece about art, oppression and persecution: Andrei Rublev by the Russian master Andrei Tarkovski.
The movie IS boring, as some people have complained, in the sense that nothing much happens, and indeed long stretches of time go by without a word being uttered. I did not try to watch it in one go but rather spread out over four nights, and I think this pacing worked very well for my purposes, allowing me to sink into the world for 25 minutes or so, then leave when I was saturated.
It is an added bonus that the movie is so beautiful, so crisp, so sharp in its colors, so mannered in the composition of almost every scene. Another reviewer complained that this crispness and vibrancy is not really true to the Bruegel. Maybe so. I've not seen the original, and the pictures I have seen certainly have more muted colors and less well defined edges. But, as I said, I don't care about the art as much as the history; and the history seems, IMHO, done very well. Towards the end Bruegel makes a rather heavy handed and utterly obvious reference to Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" and the point that ordinary life goes on regardless of whether great events are happening somewhere. And that is, mostly, the ethos of the movie --- the portrayal of the ordinary events of life of the time, whether kids playing or barnyard animals being tended, against the backdrop of the specifically out of the ordinary of that time and place, namely the search for and treatment of heretics.
The only criticism I have is that (as opposed to the Auden reference which is, actually, rather delightful) there's rather too much "woe is humanity, why must be this way?" spoken voice-over throughout. Mary says pretty much nothing but these vapid, irritating, and completely content-free clichés, and maybe half of what Nicolaes Jonghelinck says is along the same lines. The movie would have been a whole lot stronger if it had simply shut up during those scenes and allowed the visuals to speak for themselves.
The one recommendation I would make is to try to see this at the highest resolution possible, at least Blu-Ray. The texture in almost every frame is so rich that you'd be missing out if you were to view it at DVD resolution, let alone at VHS quality.
Finally some other reviewers have complained that the scenes where everyone freezes are poorly executed, that one sees the animals moving, along with the occasional person in the background, and wind motion. This criticism, IMHO, misses the point. Obviously if the director wanted a Ken Burns effect, he could easily have obtained it: just take a photo and pan over it. The point of the minor movements in an otherwise still frame, IMHO, is to act as metaphor for the artist's mental composition. The bulk of the characters have been established, and they stand still, while the artist's mind toys with minor modifications of a few characters, which we see as those characters moving more or less substantially.
Maybe I anticipated this for too long, hearing about its production, and teaching in an Art History department myself. The result is both astonishing and boring as heck. I know, there is a kind of absorption that happens through silence and slow appreciation. And there is even the astonishment of looking without really thinking, or feeling, for the narrative or the characters.
This is, for sure, a visually wonderful movie. The way it works out the scenery and milieu of a period based on a single painting is brilliant and ambitious. The mise-en-scene might in fact be the only and singular point of it all. So on that level, eleven stars. Terrific. Mind-blowing.
But that exercise in naturalistic re-creation, in enlivening a masterpiece on canvas by Bruegel from 1564, is not, to me, enough. You will know after ten minutes whether to continue. I have heard of people being just spellbound by it all, so that hopefully would be your feeling.
I tried to make the characters have meaning on some level, either in their interactions, or in their actions alone, or through what they did to the world around them. Much of what happens feels more medieval than Renaissance, to me, but I'm sure that was researched thoroughly. (Bruegel was painting at a time when the Renaissance from Italy had made its way thoroughly north to the lowland countries and beyond.)
It is fun (and indicative of the seriousness here) that both Michael York and Charlotte Rampling took part, late in their careers. That was one of the draws, for sure. But don't expect revelations there, either. Expect in fact only what the director, Lech Majewski, intended—a film version of the painting, set in its larger context but always based on and drawing from this one admittedly fantastic painting. Which might be your starting point, before launching into this one and half hour homage.
The movie had very less talkings and everything should be learnt by watching the pictures which depicts painting like series of frames. So there's nothing much to talk about the movie. One of the best ever production designs. Frankly, I was less enjoyed due to lack of knowledge about Bruegel, but glad I saw it and come to know few things about 1500s culture through his paintings.
After all, I was not stranger to 'The Procession to Calvary' only by a few weeks before watching this movie. Recently I saw a movie called 'Museum Hours' and it helped a bit to understand this movie. In that movie a guide, an expert briefs in a scene about this painting and the reason behind it.
It was a very unique movie, which still won't exactly portray as it had happened. A glimpse about the idea of it might have been like that. More like an imaginary world created behind the magnificent art work. Not suitable for all, especially those who watch movies for entertainment should stay away from it.
Beside that, cinematography is great and costimography as well. True holiday for the eyes. I enjoyed every moment of it.
It is ultimately of little consequence that the film was not a 'box- office success' of epic proportions. Whoever wants to understand both art and the forces that shape civilization-- please see this film.
If you're looking for an interesting narrative, action, character development, witty dialogue, or any dialogue at all, you're out of luck. The film is in English, but the amount of melodramatic mutterings from the only 3 English speakers would barely fill a page (all of the rest of the actors are Polish). This film dies on a small screen. If on the other hand, you're able to watch it on the largest possible screen in HD, you're in for a rare treat. The narrative is not what it's about, it's almost entirely about the remarkable imagery.
Bruegel was inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch, both in his depiction of religious events and his style of rendering. Like Bosch, Bruegel depicted many scenes of human activity within one painting (art as a narrative medium for the illiterate). In The Procession to Calvary, Christ carrying the cross is depicted small in scale, at the centre of the composition, surrounded by many other apparently unrelated groupings. The whole scene is dominated by a mill in the background sitting precariously on an impossible rock perch. Bruegel seems to have been working in the period before the formal rules of perspective entered the visual language of painters. His figures do shrink in size from foreground to background, but the terrain they occupy appears parallel or flat to the picture plane.
This quality seems to make it ideal for the director's whimsical depiction of the painting taking shape in the artist's mind: groupings of real figures, all apparently shot in isolation, animate the entire surface of the painting, waiting to be frozen in time by the Bruegel's brush. Seeing the painting briefly in this manner is one of the most charming moments of cinematic art in recent memory.
The director doesn't stop there in his use of a Bruegelesque approach to a visual medium Bruegel could't have imagined. There are numerous scenes where the camera gazes steadily on elaborately staged action in the distant background while something else transpires in close up. Both parts are in sharp focus. Trying to achieve this in-camera would present the cinematographer with an impossible depth of field situation. I expect a lot of scenes were carefully staged in this way, to be digitally knitted together in post-production. In every scene the colours and textures are a visual feast and the lighting looks deceptively natural. The costumes are stunning and the production design like a painting by Bruegel.
As for the dialogue: this film might have been better without any; maybe a bit of voice-over at best. Rutger Hauer's craggy features make him entertaining enough to watch as Bruegel. He needn't have opened his mouth. Michael York as Bruegel's patron Nicolaes Jonghelinck just looks old and Charlotte Rampling as Mary delivers her standard serenely sad gazes, but is otherwise forgettable.
Pieter Brueghel's 'Way to Calvary' transcends its theme. It is a profoundly bitter condemnation of the occupation of Flanders by the Spanish Catholic king. The Flemings are crucified or broken on the wheel, while their possessions are confiscated and their families destroyed.
Lech Majewski transformed masterfully Brueghel's masterpiece into an impressive movie. The reconstruction of the idyllic landscapes, of the colorful atmosphere of the 16th century cities, of the epochal clothing and of the cold-blooded reign and the executions by the Spanish mercenaries are simply phenomenal, helped most significantly by a brilliant cast and a fantastic color grading. Lech Majewski's impressive scenes, ranging from simple serene family joys to compulsive sadistic flogging, speak for themselves, while keen commentators, like Breughel himself, critic harshly the savagery of the representatives of the Catholic king.
A must see.
The film reconstructs Flemish maestro Pieter Bruegel's masterpiece "TTHE PROCESSION TO CALVARY" in a fictional plot of the tribulation of Christian religion, maybe I was the wrong audience there, besides an initiative appreciation of all the tableaux's verisimilitude, the film utterly eludes me.
The re-enact of Jesus Christ's affliction is no more dauntless than Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE Christ (2004), utilizing a medium of film technology to reproduce a painting is not an enlightened idea, though film industry welcomes all clutches of experimentation, but does it worth all the investment to produce such a hollow replica apart from an overt religious purpose? Also the taciturn words also scotch the aid from a venerable cast, whose theatrical delivery is being mainly delimited.
From a technical angle, the gauche SFX is a far cry from top notch, some CGI blemishes could be well-conceived by any spectator, one embarrassing moment arrives when all actors are frozen into a stop-motion pause, all the horses could not stay put as their human counterparts, their carefree optimism may betray that great paintings are earnestly not in need of any reinterpretation and an overstatedly pedagogic preaching cannot service the aim of converting a person's religious belief, while the film clearly cannot differ idiosyncrasy from ridicule and its excess of self-esteem only stands for a superfluous waste of energy, time and funds.
As the film weaves in and out of scenes found in the painting, the characters are brought to life portraying their personal reality behind the snippet of time in which they are actually portrayed. In a further layer in the film consider the juxtaposition of good and evil, peasants innocently awaking to begin a day's work, the musicians playing and dancing with merry abandon, contrasted with the whipping and murder of the young husband by the Spaniards. As Bruegel considers the crucifixion scene he actually begins to interact with the painting. He signals to the miller (a euphemism for God) to stop; and as the miller brings the mill (and seemingly life itself) to a standstill the moment is so unsettling as the windmill, looking mysteriously like the cross Christ has suffered on, turns counterclockwise.
The final shot in this lusciously disconcerting film pans out from the painting "The Way to Calvary" as it hangs in Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and leaves one to ponder the art each of us has seen, and the snapshots in time that art depicts. Majewski's brilliant film gives pause to consider the lives lived behind all the images of all the art over the ages, and so much more.
Glacially-paced and nearly-silent (at first) ... one film critic (Stephen Cole of "Globe and Mail") said that this film's detractors will likely lament that watching this "is like watching a painting dry" (a point I can understand some having). If it doesn't grab one's interest early-on -- the film's opening is the painting coming to life and than slowly drying back onto the canvas -- there is no point in watching it.
Another film about the inspiration of a painting (that I loved) -- The Girl with the Pearl Earring -- told a possible story of how a Vermeer masterpiece came into being AND each scene was as lovely as a painted picture. Here each scene looks like a painting as well; but this story isn't necessarily one about a "what-if" (although as a film it technically is). Instead, The Mill and the Cross pretends to show us THIS painting (not the inspiration behind it) as it is being painted.
The painting is of the re-imagined crucifixion of Christ in 16th Century Flanders while the region is under BRUTAL Spanish occupation. As Bruegel (Rutger Hauer - Batman Begins, Hobo with a Shotgun, Blade Runner) draws and explains his painting, the scene comes to life so that the audience sees what Bruegel "sees". The premise and style are highly unusual but I appreciated the delicate take (layer-upon-layer of computer imaging) of telling this story.
The Mill and the Cross isn't content with looking at a piece of art -- this film is about experiencing it which is rather marvelous as the Flanders countryside comes to life (and it is as if the audience has stumbled upon the same setting/scene as Bruegel). We get bits and pieces of story but no major plot other than the painting and its scenes/images coming to life.
This wasn't a favorite of mine by any means; but I do like the originality of it and anybody with a serious interest in art might want to check it out.
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.
Nothing close to Bruegel whatsoever. Bruegel's colors are transparent and clear, lighting is soft. He applied thin layers of paint to achieve this effect. In the movie, on the contrary, colors are running rampant in the most tasteless computer generated sort of way.
Bruegel's palette is certainly not bright. Maybe the director had Flemish 15th century art with its bright colors in mind? But no, he didn't. Flemish masters used glazing to let the light travel through multiple layers of paint to achieve marvellous illusions of tangibility and depth. In the movie though, the colors seem to be borrowed from a candy store. Bold and artificial. Everything in this film is digitally enhanced but acting. Acting is a pure zero while the visuals are a zero digitally enhanced.
The lighting indoors reminds of Caravaggio at best, but it's way too crude. The first scene with the lovers is lit with Caravaggio in mind but the director decided to throw in a bit of Flemish Art. Hence a brightly lit window. Unfortunately, the result is a caravagesque painting torn and another one, Flemish, visible through a hole.
So, what's this film about? Spanish oppression. Well, with no plot, no acting, no drama it's a worthless comment. About the recreation of Bruegel's famous painting? No way. The painting is shown in the movie and it's obvious that it has nothing to do with it artistically. Well, even though out of place, could it be on Barogue art? The lighting indoors is certainly meant to be Baroque. That can be true but than the director has not succeed. If you are interested in Baroque, there are quite a few infinitely better films. Even an entertaining and unpretentious "Alatriste" succeeded in recreating Velasquez way better than "The Miller and the Cross" in recreating anything.
This film is nothing but European artsy pop junk. Will there be an end to artsy directors fooling the public?
I gave the movie two stars because at least some viewers might get interested in Pieter Brugel's art after seeing a "Road to Calvary" painting.
Bruegel's patron is Nicolaes Jonghelinck (Michael York), a successful Flemish banker who spends his time learning from Bruegel about the people in the painting and what each section represents and also pontificates to nobody in particular about the current state of affairs in Flanders. In 1564, Spain ruled what is now Antwerp and Flanders. The Spanish militia seen in the painting in their red tunics seemed to be preoccupied with chasing down and torturing Protestant heretics. There are gruesome scenes in the film with a man tied to a wagon wheel hoisted up in the air with no defense at all while the birds have at him. A woman's fate is no better as she is shoved alive into an open grave while the red tunics fill the dirt in on top of her.
The Way to Calvary itself does not show these particular atrocities. Instead, it has Jesus in the center hoisting his own cross towards his crucifixion. The exact moment the painting captures is Simon helping him with the cross because Jesus stumbled and fell down. Everyone's eyes are on Simon at this time instead of Jesus. In the foreground is Mary (Charlotte Rampling). She is helpless as she sits on the sidelines because there is nothing she can do to prevent the red tunics from carrying out their mission. The rest of the painting shows hundreds of peasants either watching the proceeding or going about their chores. Children play games on the hillside, a local peddler sells his bread, a horn player dances around, and above them all, the miller observes from his windmill.
The Mill and the Cross is at its best when Bruegel is explaining his inspiration and how he plans to incorporate all of his ideas and scenes into one large landscape. He looks closely at a spider's web to discover where the anchor point on his painting will be and how to section off the rest of the action. Just as intriguing are the scenes of everyday life in 1564 Flanders. A young couple gets out of bed and takes their cow to the field for the day. Bruegel's wife and children wake up after him and get ready for breakfast which is a small slice of bread. The miller and his apprentice ready the mill for the day's tasks and the large wheels and gears moan into action.
Rutger Hauer is excellent as Pieter Bruegel and he appears to be serving his artistic penance to atone for his ridiculous participation in Hobo with a Shotgun earlier this year. Michael York is taking a break from his voice over work and TV appearances to finally show up in a serious film again. Charlotte Rampling is sort of the odd man out here. Her screen time is sparse as Mary and she spends most of the time misty eyed observing all of the peasant movements around her.
The Mill and the Cross is a Polish production directed by Lech Majewski who also aided in adapting the screenplay from a book of the same name by Michael Francis Gibson. The film was an official selection at this year's Sundance Film Festival and will most likely earn an Oscar nod for Best Costume Design. The costumes are remarkable and frequently take center stage over the performers.
The Mill and the Cross is a bit reminiscent of The Girl with a Pearl Earring but instead of showing how the painting is made from the outside, this time, the filmmakers actually take you inside of the painting itself and walks on the same landscape as its subjects. There is little dialogue in the film which is not a problem because it is so absorbing to just sit back and watch the peasants wander around the area and Bruegel figure out how to tie everything together. I will not give it away, but the final shot of the film is as wonderful as the rest as the camera backs up and reveals something to the audience.
If you are a movie patron with patience and an interest in art history, The Mill and the Cross is for you. If you get bored in movies without guns, flash bangs, and screaming, stay away.
If you are interested in symbology and art history, see Peter Greenaway's, far superior Nightwatching, a film with a plot and lively characters as well as a fascinating view into the meanings (and the USE of meanings and symbols) of another famous Dutch painting, which, despite also suffering from some bombastic elements, still manages to engage the viewer in its own right as a movie.
Also Derek Jarman's Caravaggio comes to mind as a film that uses tableaux to evoke the painter of the title. Despite--or perhaps due to--being somewhat opaque and strange, the Greenaway and Jarman films (and almost any of their work) are far more interesting than The Mill and the Cross, because they use the medium of film to SHOW and not TELL. This literal and slavish reproduction of the painting was impressive in its verisimilitude but ultimately pointless and superficial.
We also learned a lot about how people lived those days. A special mention should be devoted to the parts where this film demonstrates that life goes on, regardless of politics, war, and religions. We also saw many forgotten customs about bread, threshold cleaning, and much more that I want to leave as an exercise to the close observer.
A dramatic moment at ¾ of the film is where the painter raises his hand, and life comes to a stand still, including the mill on the hill that stops by a hand signal of the miller. It seems no coincidence that the miller very much resembles how our Lord is pictured usually, and also that he oversees the whole panorama from his high position. As soon as he signals the mill to resume working, the whole picture relives from its frozen state.
A large part of the audience stayed for the final Q&A. We got much information about the post production effort required to get the colors right, and creating the different layers to get everything in focus. Further, the film maker told he wanted to make a feature film from the start. It was considered a Mission Impossible by the people around him. How wrong they were!
All in all, a lot goes on in the film, much more than I could oversee during the screening. Maybe I should try to grasp more of the fine details during a second viewing. I don't think I saw everything that the film makers did put into this production.