The Mill and the Cross

The Mill and the Cross

Rutger Hauer as Pieter Bruegel in THE MILL AND THE CROSS, a film by Lech Majewski. Picture courtesy Kino Lorber, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Mill and the Cross

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The Mill and the Cross (2011)

Opened: 09/14/2011 Limited

Film Forum/NYC09/14/2011 - 11/08/201156 days
The Nuart09/30/2011 - 10/06/20117 days
Laemmle's Play...10/07/2011 - 10/13/20117 days
Kendall Square...10/21/2011 - 11/03/201114 days
Music Box Thea...10/21/2011 - 11/03/201114 days

Trailer: Click for trailers

Websites: Home

Genre: Historical Drama (English)

Rated: Unrated


Pieter Bruegel's epic masterpiece The Way To Calvary depicts the story of Christ's Passion set in Flanders under brutal Spanish occupation in the year 1564, the very year Bruegel created his painting. From among the more than five hundred figures that fill Bruegel's remarkable canvas, THE MILL & THE CROSS focuses on a dozen characters whose life stories unfold and intertwine in a panoramic landscape populated by villagers and red-caped horsemen. Among them are Bruegel himself (played by Rutger Hauer), his friend and art collector Nicholas Jonghelinck (Michael York), and the Virgin Mary (Charlotte Rampling).

About the Film

In 2005, the writer and art critic Michael Francis Gibson saw Lech Majewski's Angelus in a cinema in Paris. Fascinated by the director's painterly vision, he gave him a copy of his book The Mill and the Cross, an analysis of Pieter Bruegel's painting The Way to Calvary. Majewski, whose creative journey began with painting and poetry, admired the depth of Gibson's insight into Bruegel's picture, so he took up the challenge of creating a visual equivalent of the Flemish master's work.

For Lech Majewski this challenge was not an entirely new one, as he had already based several of his films on paintings and painters. It was he who wrote the original screenplay for Basquiat and found Julian Schnabel to direct it; his film The Garden of Earthly Delights, with Bosch's famous painting as a background, was hailed by Sight & Sound as a masterpiece; his unique videoart pieces were displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Venice Biennale.

It took Majewski three years to complete the film. It was work that required patience and imagination as well as the use of new CG technology and 3D effects; three years spent weaving an enormous digital tapestry composed of layer upon layer of perspective, atmospheric phenomena and people.

Long Synopsis

Pieter Bruegel's epic masterpiece The Way To Calvary depicts the story of Christ's Passion set in Flanders under brutal Spanish occupation in the year 1564, the very year Bruegel created his painting. From among the more than five hundred figures that fill Bruegel's remarkable canvas, THE MILL & THE CROSS focuses on a dozen characters whose life stories unfold and intertwine in a panoramic landscape populated by villagers and red-caped horsemen. Among them are Bruegel himself (played by Rutger Hauer), his friend and art collector Nicholas Jonghelinck (Michael York), and the Virgin Mary (Charlotte Rampling).

THE MILL & THE CROSS invites the viewer to reconstruct from Bruegel's preparatory drawings the deeper meaning of scenes. Following the painter's hints sketched on paper, the viewer pieces together an epic story of courage, defiance and sacrifice, and, like a detective on a path of clues, succeeds in reading the hidden language of symbols.

Bruegel was, and still is, the wisest philosopher among the painters. In most of his works he took pains to hide the obvious by planting distractions somewhere else. The hidden should be palpable - that was his stratagem for showing the quintessence of suffering. Namely, that nobody cares about it. The sufferer is left alone, abandoned, forgotten... The others have to live their lives and somehow make the most out of it.

There are other themes in THE MILL & THE CROSS as well: That only an artist can stop time, capture the moment and immortalise it. Or that the elements that build a single image hanging in a museum can be plentiful... But nothing is more important than that the hidden is the essence of Truth.

One of today's most adventurous and inspired artists and filmmakers, Lech Majewski translates The Way to Calvary into cinema, inviting the viewer to live inside the aesthetic universe of the painting as we watch it being created. As various lives evolve within the film frame, we witness Bruegel capturing shards of their desperate stories on his canvas-in-themaking. Confronting the Spanish inquisition bloodily repressing the rise of Protestant reform in the Low Countries, the film offers a vibrant meditation on art and religion as ongoing, layered processes of collective storytelling and reinterpretation. THE MILL & THE CROSS is also a feast of stunning visual effects, a provocative allegory and a cinematic tour de force on religious freedom and human rights.

The Making of the Film

With his latest feature film THE MILL & THE CROSS, director Lech Majewski changes the way art is portrayed on film, pioneering a new method to "enter" a painting and to create a narrative based on its depicted figures, performed by live actors. Majewski's method consists of combining digitally shot footage in three different ways:

  • actors shot in front of a blue screen, which is integrated later with various backdrops
  • actors and footage shot on location in Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria and New Zealand on specifically chosen landscapes resembling those found in Bruegel's paintings
  • a large 2D backdrop of Bruegel's work painted on canvas by Majewski

In post-production, Majewski and his editor painstakingly layered these various elements. For example, he added an actor shot in front of a blue screen to several layers of both painted backdrops and location footage, enhanced by digital footage of a majestic sky shot in New Zealand. This process allowed the filmmaker to act as a painter himself.

About the Director

In 2006, the Museum of Modern Art in New York honored Lech Majewski with a major retrospective of his works, entitled "Lech Majewski: Conjuring the Moving Image." Curated by Laurence Kardish, the retrospective presented Majewski's films and video features. The world premiere of a unique sequel of thirty-three videoart pieces was the highlight of the opening night at MoMA. Exhibited later by many galleries and museums, Blood of a Poet was installed at the Berlinale in February, 2007, and in June became a part of the 52nd Venice Biennale, where it was shown in two locations: as the non-stop projection on Campo San Pantalon, and on multiple screens inside the Giudecca's Teatro Junghans. New York Times critic Jeannette Catsoulis wrote: "Lech Majewski creates an aesthetic of dysfunction that's as beautiful as it is disturbing. After a while the film's expressiveness becomes so hypnotic that it's difficult not to make your own connections."

In 2007, the Lech Majewski Retrospective that originated at MoMA traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago, Portland Art Museum, Cleveland's Wexner Arts Center, SIFF Seattle, UCLA Film Archive, Berkeley Art Museum, and the National Gallery in Washington DC. The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott wrote: "Majewski is a brilliant filmmaker whose haunting aesthetic is processed through a lively mind and idiosyncratic imagination, chastened and tempered by history, and captured on screen with the rigor and perfectionism of an artist who might also carve castles out of toothpicks. Throughout his films, the great categories of our existence - the public and private, the personal and political, the natural world and the man-made one - constantly dissolve into one another."

In 2005, two major retrospectives of Mr. Majewski's works were organized in Buenos Aires/Mar del Plata and in London, where the British Film Academy, Riverside Studios and Curzon Cinemas showed his films, while the Whitechapel Art Gallery showed his video art pieces. A year earlier he assembled a collection of visual poems entitled Divinities and published his fifth novel.

2002 saw a number of Mr. Majewski's works appear. The Lithuanian National Opera staged his new version of Carmen, while theatergoers in Germany could see his production of The Three Penny Opera as well as Tramway performed in Dusseldorf. He also published his fourth novel, on which he based his film The Garden of Earthly Delights, an Anglo-Italian production shot in Venice and London. Completed in 2004, it won the Grand Prix at the Rome International Film Festival. "There is magic in The Garden of Earthly Delights' intimate passion plays," wrote R. Emmet Sweeney in The Village Voice. "Each moment becomes achingly gorgeous." "This film puts to shame most other love stories in its honesty," wrote The Washington Post; "within a very philosophical framework, Majewski manages to tell an astonishingly human story: the staggering weirdness of being human - frail, material, dependent, and filled with ideas and aspirations that transcend everything. The Garden of Earthly Delights is among the most powerful films made in years."

In 2000, Majewski began filming Angelus, an epic about Silesian coalminers living in an occult commune. "There's a purified aura of beauty in Angelus that creates a sometimes stunning sense of the imagination overcoming all obstacles," wrote Robert Koehler in Variety; "the film's mode of setting up fantastically designed and lensed tableaux shots, has a nearly hallucinating impact on the eye." Angelus won a number of prizes, including a Fellini Award and Grand Prix at Cameraimage. In the same year it was presented at Venice's Palagraziussi (in collaboration with the Venice Biennale), and in 2002 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris.

In 1999, Majewski directed the feature film Wojaczek, which was shown at a number of festivals, including Rotterdam, Berlin, Jerusalem, Rio de Janeiro, London, Mexico City, New York, Montreal and Los Angeles. The film received over twenty prizes, among them the European Award at the Festival of European Cinema in Corato, Italy; a V Forum of European Cinema Award in Strasbourg; and in Barcelona where the International Federation of Film Societies chose it as the Best Independent Film of the Year 2000, giving it a prestigious Don Quixote Award. The amateur Krzysztof Siwczyk, who played the lead, was nominated by the European Film Academy as the Best European Actor. "Superb and surprisingly witty," Michael Phillips wrote in Chicago Tribune: "Wojaczek operates on a deadpan comic tone established by its achingly beautiful sense of visual composure. Excellent!"

In 1997, Mr. Majewski staged and filmed in Germany his own version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream. A year later, he produced a series of CD's featuring Polish modern music masters, notably Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki. In the same year he staged the experimental TRAMWAY a 90 kilometer performance, and built an installation in the Modern Art Gallery of his native town of Katowice. A video based on this exhibition won a Silver Award at the 32nd Houston International Film Festival.

In 1996, he debuted as a composer (together with Jozef Skrzek) and a librettist, writing his autobiographical opera The Roe's Room. It premiered at the Silesian Opera and was awarded a Golden Mask. Polygram Records also brought it out as a double CD. Subsequently, the International Theater Institute (ITI) selected this production from over five hundred entries as one of the dozen best new operas in the world, and in 1998 presented it in Dusseldorf. In the same year, based on his opera, Mr. Majewski made a videoart feature The Roe's Room, described as "absolutely singular 'autobiographical film opera'... Limpidly beautiful 'cycle of life' parable... One of a kind !" (Time Out London); "Ravaging intensity!" (The Washington Post); and "a strange, entrancing beauty that possess a memorable, haunting quality" (Variety).

In 1995 Lech Majewski co-produced Basquiat, a film based on the story he wrote, starring Jeffrey Wright, Benicio del Toro, Willem Dafoe, Gary Oldman, Courtney Love, Dennis Hopper, and David Bowie as Andy Warhol. In the same year he directed in Heilbronn, Germany The Black Rider. His version of this postmodernist opera by Bob Wilson, Tom Waits and William Burroughs won him the "Killianpreis" for best direction and was praised by German critics as "true mastery" (Stuttgarter Zeitung), "a magnificent, hypnotic spectacle" (Stimme), "a breathtaking journey into the unknown" (Rundblick).

In September of 1995, the Polish National Opera opened the new season with his production of Bizet's Carmen, transmitted live by Canal+. The prestigious magazine Opera International cited this staging among the best of 1995 opera productions in the world. His staging of Penderecki's Ubu Rex in 1993 first brought Mr. Majewski to the opera world and earned him several awards including a Golden Mask for the best production and Golden Orpheus at the 1994 Warsaw Autumn Festival.

In 1992, together with David Lynch's Propaganda Films, he produced and directed Gospel According To Harry, which Piers Handling of the Toronto Film Festival called "a visionary film poem." Viggo Mortensen debuted in the lead role.

In 1986, Mr. Majewski went to Rio de Janeiro to develop a screenplay with the "world's most wanted man," Ronald Biggs, one of the perpetrators of England's Great Train Robbery. Prisoner of Rio (1989) was completed at Pinewood Studios and released worldwide by Columbia Pictures-TriStar. Mr. Majewski acted both as the Director and Executive Producer of the film, raising all of the financing.

In 1982, on the River Thames, he staged Homer's Odyssey, receiving much attention and acclaim. The London Times hailed it as "potent theatre."

He has published several books of poetry, essays and fiction. Based on his first novel, he wrote a screenplay for his US debut Flight of the Spruce Goose (1985). It was produced by Michael Hausman, who was also behind such films as Milos Forman's Amadeus and David Mamet's House of Games.

While still in Poland, Mr. Majewski wrote and directed two feature films: Annunciation (1978) and The Knight (1980), which Janet Maslin described in the New York Times as "a haunting, austere parable directed with assurance... His film retains its spare, arresting visual style throughout," and by Kevin Thomas in the Los Angeles Times as "beautiful and mystical."

About the Co-Screenwriter

A writer, art historian, art critic and scholar, Michael Francis Gibson maintained a regular column on art in the International Herald Tribune for over thirty years. His articles have also been published in the New York Times, Art in America, ARTnews, Connaissance des Arts and other publications, and he has devoted numerous radio programs (Radio-Canada, France- Culture) to artistic, cultural and philosophical issues. Gibson has devoted monographs to Pieter Bruegel, Symbolist art, Dada, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Gauguin and Odilon Redon, and published an in-depth study of Bruegel's painting Way to Calvary entitled The Mill and the Cross, which provided the inspiration for Lech Majewski's film of the same name. Gibson has also published a study in the field of cultural anthropology (in French, Ces lois inconnues) and the first two volumes of a fantasy trilogy (in English, Chronicles of the Greater Dream) published under the pseudonym of Miguel Errazu. Gibson co-authored the script of THE MILL & THE CROSS with Lech Majewski.



The Making of The Mill and the Cross