The Way to Calvary

Polish filmmaker Lech Majewski’s new English language film The Mill and the Cross is a fascinating exercise in form and artistic experimentation. The film itself is a project brought forth by a dialogue between various art forms. It’s based on Michael Francis Gibson’s book of the same name and focuses on the lives of the many characters depicted in Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s famous work The Way to Calvary (1564), a painting that features literally hundreds of individuals and a crucifixion allegory to boot. It seems almost natural that such a film would arise from the meeting of artistic minds across centuries, using a relatively new art form to give temporality and space to another. And Majewski’s film, like any considerable work of visual art, has striking visuals and composition, not so much enlivening the everyday tasks of the characters in this painting with “realism” but depicting it through the opportunities of artistic representation. Thus, The Mill and the Cross is a fully aware and intentionally engaged with artifice and its process. Why then, is its very artificiality so off-putting?

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