Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Mill and the Cross

Saturday morning I attended a sold-out screening of Lech Majewski's The Mill and the Cross at the SF International Film Festival. The film is based on art historian Michael Francis Gibson's book of the same name about Bruegel's The Way to Calvary. Actors dressed as figures from the painting populate a meticulously constructed CGI version of Bruegel's landscape. The film is almost a documentary about the clothing & lifestyles of the period. The scenario interprets the painting as a politcal allegory for the 16th century Spanish occupation of Flanders. An episode in which a peasant is beaten & exposed on a wheel is particularly grisly, as is a similarly unexplained scene of a woman being buried alive. There is no dialogue except for a few pretentious & clunky speeches for Rutger Hauer, Michael York & Charlotte Rampling, playing historical characters. The movie is very static, & its climax occurs when time stops & the actors form a tableux vivant of the central action of the painting.

Mr. Majewski was present at the screening & gave amusingly meandering answers when programmer Sean Uyehara tried to interview him afterward. Mr. Majewski was emphatic about his deep respect for Bruegel. He opined that the old masters made paintings that you can enter, but with contemporary art you are not allowed in. Modern art gets bigger & bigger but shows less & less.

The film took 3 years to make, most of it spent in post-production doing CGI. The first version of a spider web turned out "German," looking too perfectly engineered to be real. Mr. Majewski also humorously described his 1st phone call with Rutger Hauer & explicated the iconography of Dutch still life painting.

§ The Mill and the Cross
director, Lech Majewski
Poland/Sweden, 2010, 97 min

San Francisco International Film Festival 54
Sat, Apr 23, 2011 12:30 / SFMOMA
Wed, Apr 27, 2011 9:00 / Kabuki

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