THE MILL AND THE CROSS (Lech Majewski). 93 minutes. Opens Friday (November 11) at TIFF Bell Lightbox. See Times. Rating: NNNN
Depending on your tastes, you'll either call The Mill And The Cross a pretentious piece of ponderous pageantry or go crazy for it.
Put me in the second category. Using almost no dialogue and a ton of technological tricks, Lech Majewski tells the story of... well, actually there isn't a story. This is a meditation on what inspires a work of art.
The masterpiece in question is Pieter Bruegel's The Procession To Cavalry, a 16th century painting containing nearly 500 characters that the Flemish artist made during Spain's occupation of Flanders and relentless repression of the Reformation.
In the painting, Jesus Christ is led to his execution not by the Romans but by the Spanish cavalry, while Dutch villagers express dismay or get on with their lives. A godlike miller looks down on the scene from a gigantic rock where his mill grinds inexorably - a ham-fisted metaphor, sure, but still beautiful.
Majewski doesn't just probe the creative process of Bruegel (played by Rutger Hauer, though it could be anyone); he gets inside the painting itself, imagining the daily lives of the villagers and the brutality of the occupiers. By ingenious means - including meticulous art direction and the use of
3-D, blue screen and more - the action seems to take place in the painting's landscape. The painting appears as the background in almost every shot.
Charlotte Rampling and Michael York play tiny roles, but experienced actors lend little to the film. It's astonishing on its own.
But there will be haters. Don't say I didn't warn you.