3 Stars out of 4
Lech Majewski’s The Mill and the Cross is a film that will either absorb or repel you. Either way, there is no doubting the film’s quiet, uncompromising, and meditative style that brings art – quite literally – to life. It lives within the cruel yet gracefully alive Flanders in Pieter Bruegel’s famous renaissance painting “The Procession to Cavalry.” If you did not understand the nouns of that last sentence, this art piece will not make room for clarifications.
Not that that is a bad thing. In fact, The Mill and the Cross is a more liberating experience than you might think, offering many ways for the audience to immerse themselves. Each shot is rendered with its own evocative emotion, whether it be a strand of humour or sadness. Characters will often dance around aimlessly, and then there will be a vulgar sight of a woman being buried alive. You do not know whether to laugh or cry sometimes.
Pieter Bruegel is played with almost comic restraint by Rutger Hauer, who is more of a side note to Majewski’s true spectacle, that – to its credit – strokes the spirit of Bruegel’s paintings: it shows a vast landscape dominated by people, particularly peasants, who go about their days aimlessly. In the background, a mill soars above the people, rotating always and faithfully. Its omniscient presence is almost God-like.
The film is a meditative and, at its best, mesmerizing construction of life on earth. The film looks at our existence and scoffs with a tear. It encapsulates Bruegel’s deep curiousness towards the purpose of life, a concept that would be considered existential now, but perhaps more like deism then – the sixteenth century. But don’t quote me.
I wouldn’t recommend this to the average movie goer. This film is free of car chases and contrived romances, almost even dialogue for that matter. But there is no reason for words in this film. Art work adorns itself in silence, and it is the viewer’s role to use their imagination. The Mill and the Cross, rightly so, provokes just that from us. As for the last shot, it leaves you stranded in wonder, inquiring “my, can paintings really come that much to life? Or was that just my imagination?”.