The opening shots of The Mill and the Cross establish the artistic leanings of director Lech Majewski in a daring and effective way. Painter Pieter Bruegel (Rutger Hauer) walks through his own work, adjusting the cast of thousands within his own frame to his own personal vision. A simple tale about the work of one man told through various visual palates designed to look like works on canvas, the film is an intriguing look at the artistic process that takes place within a metatextual work of art.
Told with an absolute minimum amount of dialog, the film recreates the events and influences that lead Bruegel to create his famed painting “Way to Cavalry” in 1564. The film moves almost seamlessly into and out of the painting as it’s being created, allowing viewers the chance to observe the back story of the people within the borders of Bruegel’s work depicting Jesus on the cross walking thorough a field of soldiers as a miller watches from a higher perch.
About thirty minutes into the film Michael York and Charlotte Rampling show up to explain a bit about the religious and political climate the famed Flemish painter was working under, but there are fewer details given other than depictions of day to day life. The story is told with meticulously well thought out production design and inventive visuals. It’s a very simplistic story that will satisfy art lovers, but will most likely confound others looking for a more straightforward narrative. For better and worse, it’s an easy story to get lost within, and that seems to be the point Mejewski is looking to convey from the very beginning. It’s a decent film about losing yourself within a work of art that costs less to view on a big screen than a ticket to an art gallery would set one back.
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Michael York, Charlotte Rampling
Directed by: Lech Majewski
Top image: A scene from The Mill and the Cross. Courtesy Mongrel Media.