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dir. Lech Majewski / Poland/ Sweden / 2011 / 92 min.

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 Majewski 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. Majewski’s film “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, with Bosch’s famous painting as a background, was hailed by Sight & Sound as a masterpiece and 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 “The Mill and the Cross”. 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.

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 and 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).

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-the-making. 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 and 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.