by writer/director Lech Majewski
In 2005, the writer and art critic Michael Francis Gibson saw my film Angelus in a cinema in Paris.
Fascinated by the film’s painterly vision, he gave me a copy of his book The Mill and the Cross, an analysis of Pieter Bruegel’s painting “The Way to Calvary,” and I read the entire book in one sitting. I was in awe with the depth of Gibson’s insight into Bruegel’s picture, and I immediately decided to take up the challenge of creating a visual equivalent of the Flemish master’s work.
The challenge wasn’t entirely new; I had already based several of my films on paintings and painters. I wrote the original screenplay for Basquiat and found Julian Schnabel to direct it, and my film Garden of Earthly Delights, with Bosch’s famous painting as a background, also had a similar premise. But the scope of the work in The Mill & The Cross was entirely new—and above and beyond anything I had attempted before.
Making this film required patience and imagination, as well as the use of new CG technology and 3D effects. It took me three years to weave this enormous digital tapestry, composed of layer upon layer of perspective, atmospheric phenomena and people. And I couldn’t have done this without the talents of three incredible actors: Rutger Hauer assumed the role of Bruegel; a prominent Antwerp banker who collected his paintings was played by Michael York; and Charlotte Rampling took on the difficult role of Virgin Mary.
But when I’m asked why I decided to make The Mill & The Cross, my answer is usually a short one: because I wanted to meet Pieter Bruegel inside his painting.