There’s no denying that The Mill and the Cross is a unique visual experience — that’s something you’ll know from the very first shot. With the aid of CGI and greenscreen processwork, director Lech Majewski manages to place us right in the frame with Pieter Bruegel’s The Procession to Calvary. It’s both startling and a little unsettling as the figures of the famous painting come to life. It’s also the tone for the entire film, which seeks to place us not so much in the world of the painter as in the world as seen by the painter. The approach is an interesting one — interesting enough to carry the movie — but it doesn’t work as drama. Perhaps Majewski just isn’t as good at drama as visuals. Here we have a film with torture, a woman being buried alive, lashings and a crucifixion. By rights this would seem to have some dramatic punch, but it really doesn’t. It feels too much like people recreating some kind of historical tableau in nearly every instance. For example, there are too many scenes of peasants enjoying rude peasant amusements (I guess that’s the only kind there were in 1564). Good actors — Rutger Hauer, Michael York, Charlotte Rampling — are on hand, but they aren’t given much of anything to do, other than dress in period clothes and look grim. That last is understandable given they’re watching the occupying Spanish Inquisition dole out punishments right and left. There we have the crux of the film — the subversive nature of the painting as a kind of protest against the Inquisition. That’s ultimately more of an intellectual than dramatic exercise, so bear that in mind in tackling this film. All the same, the film’s look is enough to make the — wisely not overlong — film worth seeing at least once.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Mill and the Cross Sunday, June 9, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.