We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Here is a film before which words fall silent. "The Mill & the Cross" contains little dialogue, and that simple enough. It enters into the world of a painting, and the man who painted it. If you see no more than the opening shots, you will never forget them. It opens on a famous painting, and within the painting, a few figures move and walk. We will meet some of those people in more detail.
The painting is "The Way to Calvary" (1564), by the Flemish master Pieter Bruegel the Elder. We might easily miss the figure of Christ among the 500 in the vast landscape. Others are going about their everyday lives. That's a reminder of Bruegel's famous painting "Landscape With the Fall of Icarus," about which Auden wrote of a passing ship "that must have seen something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on." Extraordinary events take place surrounded by ordinary ones.
There's a bitter subtext for Bruegel's work. The mounted soldiers are not Romans persecuting Jews, but Spanish Catholics persecuting the Protestants of Flanders. Not that the film explains that. In the Middle Ages painted allegory spoke in terms its audience would understand. Here Christ is carrying his cross through another land subjugated by outsiders for sectarian reasons.
The film is an extraordinary mixture of live action, special effects, green screen work and even an actual copy of the painting itself (by Lech Majewski, the film's Polish director). The compositions are painterly, the colors Bruegelian. Only three "characters" are named: Bruegel (Rutger Hauer); his patron Nicholas Jonghelinck (Michael York), and his mother, Mary (Charlotte Rampling), who was Bruegel's model for the Virgin Mary at two different ages.