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Thursday, April 25, 2013

THE MILL AND THE CROSS (2011)

Lech Majewski’s arty contemplation of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s THE WAY TO CALVARY isn’t content to simply walk & talk us thru the painting, it wants to take us inside it, and inside the world it came out of. In place of a traditional narrative, Majewski creates a multi-layered mix of digital imaging, along with dollops of historical references to Flanders’ unhappy life under Spanish rule, spooned out to us by Bruegel’s patron (Michael York). This sets the tone while we observe the morning rituals of rural peasants at their table or follow a procession of soldiers & townspeople leading to an epic tableau vivant Bruegel will put on canvas. Europe’s master stage manager, Max Reinhardt, couldn’t have bettered the mise-en-scène or the variety of contemporaneous & biblical costuming. They even got Charlotte Rampling to play dress-up as the Virgin Mary and speak mournful voice-over while Rutger Hauer, who’s pushing 70, as Bruegel, who only made it to 44, compares his task with that of a spider spinning his web. All well and good, with a few startling images dense with volume, especially inside the eponymous mill, or under a strange sort of wooden aerie punishment tower. But it’s all too studied by half, with Bruegel’s lively sense of detail nailed down, as if we were collecting butterflies. It’s like a companion piece/reverse image to one of those deadly didactic ‘lesson’ films Rossellini made in his latter years.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Peter Webber added a not wholly convincing story to bring Vermeer’s THE GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING/’03 to life. But to see what is possible in this sort of thing, there’s really only Tarkovsky’s stupifyingly great ANDREI RUBLEV/’66. A film that, alas, needs the big screen to make its full mark.

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