The mill & the cross

2011

Based on a painting by Peter Bruegel, The Way to Calvary, the film sets the story of Christ’s Passion in Flanders in the year 1564 – the very year Bruegel painted his masterpiece.

Among the five hundred plus figures swarming over the canvas a dozen characters are selected, their life stories unfold and intertwine in the film. Inspired by the book The Mill & the Cross by Michael Francis Gibson, the film unfolds in a single day, from darkness to darkness. Meanwhile, the tragedy of the Passion is submerged and lost from sight in the irrepressible abundance of everyday life. This is a recurrent idea in Bruegel’s work: the narrative of ordinary life totally eclipsing the dramatic event that goes unnoticed.

With Rutger Hauer playing Bruegel, Michael York his protector and Charlotte Rampling as Mary it’s a very unique production – thanks to the tremendous work by a large group of computer graphic wizards under the masterful direction of Lech Majewski we can physically enter the painting and the process of its creation.

with Rutger Hauer (Peter Bruegel), Michael York (Jonghelinck), Charlotte Rampling (Maria), Joanna Litwin (Marijken, Bruegel’s wife), Dorota Lis (Saskia Jonghelinck), Emilia Czartoryska (Maria Betania)

directed & produced by  Lech Majewski written by Lech Majewski and Michael Francis Gibson based on his book The Mill & The Cross cinematography Lech Majewski, Adam Sikora production design Katarzyna Sobańska, Marcel Sławiński costumes  Dorota Roqueplo music Lech Majewski, Józef Skrzek editing Eliot Ems, Norbert Rudzik sound Zbigniew Malecki, Lech Majewski co-producers Dorota Roszkowska, Freddy Olsson, Leszek Rybarczyk production managers Małgorzata Domin, Piotr Ledwig production company Angelus Silesius co-produced by Telewizja Polska, Silesia Film, Arkana Studio, Supra Film, Odeon Film Studio; 24Media; Bokomotiv co-financed by Polish Film Institute

PRIZES:

Europa Cinema Prize for the Best European Film, Best European Director for Lech Majewski, Best European Actor for Rutger Hauer, Viareggio 2011; Grand Prix, Luxemburg 2011; Prix de Jury, Andalusian Screenwriters Association Award (ASECAN Award), Seville 2011; Best Feature Film, Sao Louis, 2012; Prix de Jury, Best Costumes, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Gdynia 2011; Umbria Grand Prix, Best Film, Terni, 2011; Audience Award, Toruń 2011; Pisa University Prize for the Best European Film, 2011; Grand Prix, Golden Gladiator, Best Film, Best Director Durres 2011; Film Clubs Award for the Best Polish Film, Łagów, 2011; Film Critics Circle Award, San Francisco, 2011; Best Foreign Film Director, Premio Internazionale Sonora, Best Music, Best Sound, Italian Film Academy, 2012; Grand Prix, Bolzano 2012; Golden Eagels, Best Sets, Best Costumes Polish Film Academy, 2012; Special Jury Award, Perpignan, 2012 Best Film of 2012, Slovakia; Premio dell Presidente della Repubblica Italiana, Rome 2012

REVIEWS:

“Even before the opening credits run, The Mill & The Cross casts a transfixing spell, as Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the great 16th-century Flemish artist, chats with his patron Nicholas Jonghelinck while he sketches studies for a large work he is preparing. In this lush and hypnotic examination of a painter’s work and the times in which he lived, Mr. Majewski presents an extended contemplation of the creative process itself. It isn’t the artist, it’s the art that’s the star here, and Mr. Majewski lavishes sophisticated, enchanting detail on its re-creation. He’s painting cinematically… An inspiring, alluring meditation about imagery and storytelling, the common coin of history, religion and art.”
Daniel M. Gold, The New York Times

“Visually lush historical drama. Lech Majewski reinvents the process by which the canvas was made, using extensive computer graphics and an ensemble cast to populate not only an uncanny tableux vivant against the Low Country panorama, but to flesh out the stories of the those whom Bruegel touched and witnessed. The film’s methodical hand mirrors the master’s own, boldly telling its tale with images more than words.”
Steve Dollar, The Wall Street Journal 

“Here is a film of great beauty and attention before which words fall silent, and watching it is a form of meditation.”
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“An extraordinary imaginative leap… Visually ravishing, surprisingly beguiling gamble… The Mill & The Cross delights, with episodes of rambunctious humor among some rural ne’er-do-wells and a roving pack of joyfully rowdy children. The pick details rustic Flanders life with loving care, design contributions are superlative… Immersive experience a la Sokurov’s Russian Ark… Remarkable!”
Dennis Harvey, VARIETY

“A breakthrough epic film… The Mill & The Cross is a revelation that should not be missed”.
David D’Arcy, Screen International

“Inside a masterpiece, and creating a new one in The Mill & The Cross – an extraordinary example of both art-historical interpretation and CGI as passport to unknown lands.”
Nick Pinkerton, The Village Voice

“Visually ravishing and consistently absorbing. An extraordinary achievement born of an extraordinary idea, The Mill & The Cross is certainly the answer to anyone who says there’s nothing new at the movies. Like Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002) – which it recalls, only because it’s audacious and about creativity – The Mill & The Cross is a movie made possible by the most up-to-date technology, and yet explores a work 500 years old and the insoluble connections to humanity made by timeless art… This film is itself a work of art. One can only imagine how and by whom it might itself be explored and examined 500 years in the future, but director Majewski’s miraculous movie makes you wonder.”
John Anderson, Newsday

“The creation of a famous Brueghel painting is turned into a visual meta-feast. In a feat of artistry worthy of its source, Lech Majewski takes us deep inside the Flemish master’s beautiful nightmare. The Mill & The Cross is a dazzling master class in visual composition. Its splendors are best appreciated in singular images even as the work eventually coalesces into a surprisingly moving finale. After toil and terror, there can still be joy. Critics’ pick!”
Eric Hynes, Time Out New York

The Mill & The Cross is a stunning piece of art in its own right. Magnificent… Intriguing and playful, infused with the filmmaker’s passion for his subject. Spectacular and irresistible. It is a triumph!”
Pam Grady, BOXOFFICE Magazine

“Highly original, visually stunning interpretation of famous Pieter Bruegel masterpiece should delight discriminating filmgoers embracing this unique journey into art, history, religion and haunting cinematic experiment. The Mill & The Cross is a clean narrative and observational excursion beyond Bruegel’s purview. Majewski’s lavish production achieves the jaw-dropping spectacle to great immersive effect. Proof of the film’s power is that some of its imagery – whether dreamscape or detail – sticks in memory.”
Doris Toumarkine, Film Journal International

“Visually striking. Audacious!”
New York Magazine

“A meticoulously crafted experiment in which Lech Majewski invites viewers to step inside Bruegel’s 1564 painting The Procession to Calvary. His film is visually arresting enough to hold audiences captive.”
Laura Kern, Film Comment

“Majewski’s film is a far cry from such melodramatic movie renderings of artists and their lives as Lust for Life or Moulin Rouge. Rather than telling the story through the framework of the artist’s personal trials and tribulations, Majewski focuses on how Bruegel made the painting; showing the artist sketching, discussing his work, and scouting locations. We also see many characters whom Bruegel painted as they get caught up in both the drama of the crucifixion or the stark reality of life under the Spanish inquisition”.
Steve Barnes, ARTnews

“The word “film” seems inadequate to describe Lech Majewski’s The Mill & The Cross, a mesmerizingly layered rendering of the creation of Pieter Bruegel’s iconic The Way to Calvary. From its arresting opening image of Bruegel (played by another legend, Rutger Hauer) wandering inside his masterpiece-in-progress, to Majewski’s ingenious use of subtle movement, this film is less costume drama and more time capsule come to life. It’s an art installation captured by painstaking cinematography. Each scene is rendered like a brushstroke, and is accompanied by a haunting sound design that surreptitiously sucks you in. Majewski, much like his fellow countryman Roman Polanski, is a cool outsider at heart, preferring to peer through doorways in order to spy on daily life, on all its mundane activities and playful bawdiness… The Mill & The Cross ultimately becomes an intoxicating invention, timeless and innovative. A visceral experience.”
Lauren Wissot, SLANT Magazine

The Mill & The Cross is worth attempting for its stunning visuals alone. Lech Majewski brings the Bruegel’s world to life in a striking, splendid fashion, combining real countrysides, live actors, and matte backgrounds for a look that is exquisitely all its own.”
Alison Willmore, The ONION Magazine

“Majewski’s film is captivating, but the movie’s lasting impression is about more than novelty. It’s a portrait of suffering and subjugation that urges viewers to stop what they’re doing and take notice of the world around them.”
Stephanie Merry, Washington Post

“The Mill & The Cross is astonishing… Immersive experience.”
Stephen Garrett, ESQUIRE Magazine

“Gorgeous. I was engrossed with every shot. Stunning special effects and cinematography.”
Chris Campbell, indieWIRE

“You are not stuck by the pulsing intellect of Majewski’s The Mill & The Cross on first viewing. Rather, you cannot help but be overwhelmed by the lush visual feast before you. And his film – more than any other to which is applied the slapdash moniker of “experimental” – not only crosses, but leaps the bounds between “visual art” and film, presenting an amalgam that at once is radically novel and naturally familiar.”
Alec Meacham, BOMB Magazine

Majewski has achieved the impossible: The Mill & The Cross is a rich and expressive film that continues to offer rewards upon each viewing, much like the Bruegel’s painting itself.”
Matthiew Lucas, From The Front Row

It is impossible to hang a pat label on this film. It certainly is not non-narrative filmmaking, since it encompasses the greatest story ever told. However, it completely challenges linear notions of time, incorporating Christ’s Passion and the world of 1564 Flanders. Majewski’s visuals are often arresting, with the figures literally coming alive on Bruegel’s canvas. Yet, Majewski also captures moments of both tender intimacy and graphic torture, rendered with powerful immediacy… A brilliant personal triumph for Majewski, who also served as producer, co-cinematographer, co-composer, and sound designer, The Mill & The Cross effectively blurs the distinction between film and painting, yet it is more of a “movie” than nearly anything ever deemed “experimental film”. A unique genre-defying viewing experience is very highly recomended indeed.”
Joe Bendel, Epoch Times

A gorgeous film. The Mill & The Cross is clearly the work of someone with immense command of his craft and his material.”
Shawn Levy, The Oregonian

“The Mill & The Cross is definitely a masterpiece of cinema!”
Ross Ufberg, GALO Magazine

Inspired by a book-length study of Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel’s The Way to Calvary, Lech Majewski has created an absorbing blend of art history and feature filmmaking. Visually ingenious, the resulting film offers a multilayered panorama encompassing, and imaginatively expanding upon, the painting’s genesis and content. The overall experience is akin to watching a lithograph by Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher spring to life. Majewski employs computer technology without disrupting the period feel or the story’s timelessness – and while remaining true to Bruegel’s visual aesthetic. The sound effects, which serve a vital function since there’s so little dialogue, are equally expressive… Majewski’s tone is calm and evenhanded. You don’t sense he favors one Christian denomination or is eager to indict the church or Catholicism per se. Instead, he seems intent on conveying a universal message against religious intolerance and human rights abuses. His film is grounded in the connection between the paschal mystery and social justice. Therefore, at movie’s end, we’re reminded that we immerse ourselves in artistic masterpieces in order to better understand distressing and regrettable facts about real life.”
John P. McCarthy, Catholic News Service

Computer-generated imagery is often used to simulate the future in motion pictures, but the ravishing The Mill & The Cross uses it to replicate the past. The effect is rich and complex, as befits the artist’s ambitions. A painting “should be large enough to hold everything,” Bruegel explains to Jonghelinck, and The Mill & The Cross is worthy of that ideal; its visual splendor argues for repeated viewings… At the end of the film transfixed viewers will not be ready to leave.”
Mark Jenkins, National Public Radio

A unique examination of Dutchman Pieter Bruegel’s 16th-century painting. No description can do justice to The Mill & The Cross, which must be seen to be fully appreciated.”
V.A. Musetto, New York Post

Masterpiece leaps to life in hypnotic drama. The extraordinarily beautiful The Mill & The Cross is a mixture of the sacred and the profane. It is a rare thing, sitting at the junction of art, film and history: It invites us into a famous painting – Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s majestic 1564 work The Way to Calvary – and lets us wander among the cruelties, beauties and mysteries of the 16th century. It’s a world that is at once meditative, hypnotic and terrifying. Polish filmmaker Lech Majewski creates a unique look of super-reality. It’s a gorgeous work that achieves a kind of third dimension without the use of 3-D glasses.”
Jay Stone, Vancouver Sun

“The Mill & the Cross is a treat! Loads of visual imagination!”
Volkmar Richter, Vancouver Observer

“What’s especially remarkable about Majewski’s hybrid of art history, political history and formalist ensemble drama is the way it merges the composed with the naturalistic, the still and painterly with the fluid and cinematic. The Bruegel imbues the movie with monumental vastness and historical sweep; the movie makes you hear sounds and discover action in the painting. This is art conversing with art—and the conversation’s well-met on both sides. Actor’s voices enhance the movie’s trance, luring us into its particular moment, where brutality is transformed into beauty by one who aspires to reveal multitudes on a single coherent canvas.”
Josef Braun, Vue Weekly

“Astonishing and visionary… The eerie, brilliantly wrought beauty of its best moments will linger long.”
Adam Nayman, The Grid

“Majewski’s resplendent visuals render The Mill & the Cross utterly spellbinding. Every immaculately composed shot is graced by Majewski’s painterly approach to cinematography, leaving a viewer’s eyes to dash about the frame, admiring the rich textures and evocative details. The experience is more akin to wandering through a gallery than planting oneself in a theatre. And yet, despite its deliberate staging and mannered performances, The Mill and the Cross feels vital and alive thanks to the exuberant inventiveness and evident passion that Majewski brings to his craft.”
Curtis Woloschuk, The Westender

“Mill’s a miracle. A meditation on what inspires a work of art… Astonishing! Go crazy for it!”
Susan G. Cole, Now Magazine

The Mill & the Cross brings a fantastic amount of illumination to the screen. The singular vision of Lech Majewski, a Polish artist and director who has long worked in English, The Mill and the Cross is a dramatization of events, landmarks, spiritual yearnings, and nasty politics that went into The Way to Calvary, a totemic 1564 painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder… The story is told through spectacular imagery. Majewski perfectly captures the artist’s strangely dreamlike sense of perspective, with some effects flat and others eye-poppingly present.”
Ken Eisner, Georgia Straight

“Majewski enjoys cinematography the way Bruegel loved paint… Ravishing, with brilliant set pieces.”
Stephen Cole, The Globe and Mail

“I don’t know art, but I know what I like, and Lech Majewski’s The Mill & the Cross falls into that category.  It has a meditative, almost narcotic effect… The near-wordless film is hardly silent – Majewski creates an aural landscape with expressive sound effects. Amplifying some sounds over others really emphasizes the overall quiet of everything else and allows the eye to travel over the beautiful editing.”
Nathalie Atkinson, National Post

“Be enthralled by visionary Polish director Lech Majewski. In The Mill & the Cross, there are multiple moments that will make you catch your breath…”
Linda Barnard, Toronto Star

“Charged with a contemplative atmosphere reminiscent of the Russian director,Tarkovsky… Bruegel has structured the painted surface like a spider’s web, and Majewski uses this device in order to snare his viewers.”
Eric Bietry-Rivierre, Le Figaro

“Stunning colors, the composition so perfectly rigorous that one might retrace each line of force with one’s eyes closed… Thrilling!”
Noémie Luciani, Le Monde

Four stars – “un chef-d’oeuvre” – a masterpiece… A film as original as it is exciting. Majewski has created a new cinematographic dimension. Perhaps the fourth…”
Alain Spira, PARIS-MATCH

The Mill and the Cross exudes a contemplative ambience that expresses volumes… Gorgeously rendered digital effects… A fiendishly excellent work of art in its own right… Breathtaking!”
Kaori Shoji, The Japan Times