While it goes without saying that cinema is one of the world’s highest art forms, people still see arts such as painting to be the epitome of that huge three letter word. However, what happens when the two truly mesh. I’m not talking about a biopic of a painter or anything like that, but the rare case in which a viewer is tossed directly into the middle of what many believe to be one of the greatest paintings ever put to canvas.
That’s exactly what a viewer of the latest film from Lech Majewski, The Mill And The Cross, is given the chance to sit through. Starring Rutger Hauer and Charlotte Rampling, the attempts to bring life to the beloved painting ‘The Way To Calvary’ from artist Pieter Bruegel. The painting itself looked at the Passion of Christ, and featured roughly 500 different characters all within the constraints of that piece’s one large canvas. To say a film adaptation of that would be a tough one to get made is an understatement. However, saying that this is one of the most visually striking films of the year would not be.
Majewski is easily the biggest and brightest star of this film. This type of undertaking, adapting a hugely important and influential painting, is not only a tough project to craft, but also it’s a tough one to conceptually spark. Should he look at the artist and his time creating the piece? What about what is actually occurring during the piece? Well, Majewski blends the two, and to utter perfection.
The Mill And The Cross lands as one of 2011’s most visually inspired pieces, combining truly painterly visuals with some amazing costuming, and some utterly breathtaking, often dialogue-free sequences. Each shot is framed with this calming sense of atmosphere, and without any pretentious self aggrandizing bits of style, Majewski simply allows his film to breath, and in many ways, truly come to life.
Hauer stars here as the film’s lead, the painter behind the piece, Bruegel, and is breathtaking. Better known for bombastic turns as various baddies throughout the history of cinema, or even the occasional hobo with a shotgun, Hauer shows a great deal of restraint here, instead giving Bruegel this sense of stoicism and grace, attributes not normally seen within many Hauer performances. Equally fantastic is Rampling, who proves once again that she is still one of today’s most brilliant actresses. It’s an expertly acted film, particularly in the moments where no words are spoken. Mere looks or actions are put on screen with the most care and truth, making this a really superb acting piece.
That said, this is definitely not a film for everyone. Very much a meditation on art and its creation, the film moves at a lyrical pace, often no faster than a speeding snail. You are watching a man create a piece of art, and despite all of the intrigue within the film, it is still very much a piece of art itself. Sure, it may feature top notch CGI, but outside of that, this is about as far from a blockbuster as one can humanly get.
However, it’s also one of the year’s more intriguing films. Not a perfect film (it does run a bit too long, and feels even longer), The Mill And The Cross is a visual wonder that is unlike any film you’ll be seeing this year. Featuring a pair of really great performances, the film may not be the most viscerally engaging pieces of cinema around, but it’s definitely one of its most original. And that’s more than most films can even dream of having said in the same breath as their title.