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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.04.11] review drama art

Year: 2011
Director: Lech Majewski
Writers: Lech Majewski, Michael Francis Gibson
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

I won't mince words: I expected great things from Lech Majewski's The Mill and the Cross. I've loved the recent rash of films, admittedly there are only two and they both came from Peter Greenaway, that set off to examine a painting in great detail, incorporating dramatic elements with historical research to break down a complicated piece of art.

In the case of Majewski's film, the painting in question is Pieter Bruegel's densely populated "The Way to Calvary." Bruegel's 1564 painting transported Christ's passion to Flanders and filled nearly every corner of his masterpiece with scenes from every day life and Majweski's film attempts to transport us to the 16th century, drawings us into the period through the painting itself and setting us on the road to understanding at the hand of the artist himself.

Rutger Hauer as Bruegel begins by explaining certain aspects of the proposed painting and interspersed with his description we see scenes of the artists' daily life with his much younger wife and brood of children, along with the simple living of those around him. The miller, the traders, the accused… we are granted small glimpses into their lives that, I assume, are included to add background information on the artwork but the film's narrative never manages to tie everything together. It's a meandering piece of work which travels from idea to idea as we, literally, move across the painting but very little of it is of much interest. The one gleaming bit of interesting insight comes at the hand of Bruegel as he explains the layout of the drawing, how and why he's chosen to place the various players in specific locations. It's a fascinating bit of art history amidst an otherwise bland collection of mostly silent images.

Majewski's film fails in providing much historical background that would make a non-connoisseur understand Bruegel's artwork any better; many of the ideas are noted but few are developed to fit within the context of the artwork. What is superbly impressive are The Mill and the Cross's visuals.

Using computer-generated blue-screen compositing, 3D technology, a massive hand-painted backdrop and location shooting in Poland, Austria and New Zealand, Majewski's is a feast for the eyes. The opening few minutes alone, where we see the people moving in the painting, are gorgeous and lends credence to the thought that when used correctly, effects really can bring a painting to life, but lush visuals, gorgeous costuming and music simply aren't enough to keep the film afloat.

I love the concept of these films and hope that Majewski's film won't be the last of this type of art exploration but I hope that follow-ups take more of Greenaway's approach: complete dramatization or, as in the case of Nightwatching and Rembrandt's J'Accuse, companion dramatized history and documentary exploration of the artwork in question.

Though I didn't love The Mill and the Cross, it failed to capture my complete attention and moved at glacial pace, I did love the visuals and hope that we see more films that make use of the technology with this the artistic flare demonstrated by Majewski.

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