Monday, November 14, 2011

The Mill and the Cross: Grade A

The Mill and the Cross (2011)

Rutger Hauer, Charlotte Rampling, Michael York; Director Lech Majewski. (Spanish; Subtitled)

This is a stunningly beautiful film by a legendary director, based on a painting by the Flemish master, Peter Bruegel, his 1564 painting, "Way to Calvary." You can see the painting online. The film is the story of how Breugel designed the work as he watched people and events in his medieval village, which had been occupied by hated Spanish mercenaries. So there is political commentary in the painting and in the film.

The painting shows Jesus carrying his own cross to Calvary, but somehow this scene takes place in Flanders in the 1500’s. The director uses a combination of CGI, green-screen, location shooting, and live actors to move seamlessly in and out of the painting, with fantastic effect.

A windmill on a towering rock is a metaphor for heaven, God as a miller, the massive wooden gears and wheels of the mill showing how heaven grinds humanity down, down, down, into flour-like dust.

Hauer plays Breugel, who explains his painting’s design to wealthy patron York. Rampling is Jesus’s mother, Mary, who keeps saying “I don’t understand,” as she watches the crucifixion. She represents a modern voice perhaps, speaking for the audience, who sees humanity of that time devoid of intellectual understanding, only passive acquiescence to senseless hardship. There were only the tasks of staying alive, until you were finally ground to dust. Nothing made any sense, not even religion, according to this painting and film. Only art might have made sense.

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