Monday, January 30, 2012

The Mill and The Cross

Let's talk a little porn.

Any medieval scholar must eventually wonder at the intensity with which Europe fetishized the death of one particular man of foreign extraction - an intensity which could be measured at a ratio of perhaps 10,000:1 against the fandom surrounding Star Wars or even the NFL.  In the minds of the ordinary European, every element of the death was painstakingly examined and extrapolated: the actual death itself; the very words that were spoken; the behavior of every person present; the reason for the death; the arguments used for and against; the systematic application of torture before the event and the theological ramifications thereof, even with elaborations of mythological events coinciding with those of a mundane nature.  This one death held European society in a sort of terrified, contemplative, contradicting ecstasy that lasted over a thousand years, and which still holds a dwindling few - comparatively - heartily in its grasp.  This one death was - is - the very definition of the term 'passion.'

We hardly imagine what it was to the minds of our distant ancestors.

Over the weekend I caught the film, The Mill and the Cross, which every review you will find will tell you is "about" a painting by Pieter Bruegel, The Procession to Calvary.  Calvary, for the uninitiated, is the hill upon which the aforementioned man died.  I'd like to express my extreme distaste with reviewers, who live in the small-minded state of existence that leads them to believe that a film which takes place within a painting must be about the painting, and not ALSO about the thing the painting is about.  It is as if to say that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is about the senate chamber, because it happens to take place there, or that The Shawshank Redemption is about prisons.  But this is the sort of ignorant deconstructionalism I've come to expect from modern day reviewers of films, for whom the rims of the glasses upon their noses is a far-sighted observation - naturally a film of unusual purpose and design could achieve no better effect than the casting of pearls before swine.  I have not for some time seen any movie so rashly misunderstood.

I would tell you, see this film.  It has everything to do with a man's death, and nothing to do with the edifice that has built extensively and appallingly upon the man's death.  The edifice itself, the worshipped entity that has proported to tell Europeans how to live, and then execute them when they do it less than well, is the villain in the 'canvas,' demonstrated eloquently in the work without any character's wagging finger.  But I shall not be more precise than that in describing the 'edifice,' since I don't give a fig if the ordinary, uneducated, ignorant person knows what it is I refer to - the movie takes the same high road, and I shall not veer from the path.

But then, the director,  Lech Majewski, is Polish, and clearly speaking to Europeans in this film and not to Americans, so I think it fair to say that his audience knows of what he speaks.  Majewski does not bow to explain; he does not bow to moralize; he presents a tableau and an argument, and demands that the viewer should apply brain to problem.  I did, and in doing so, watched the movie twice through.

I do not think that any film made has ever captured the sense or the flavour of my Dungeons and Dragons world so perfectly.  I shall have to say that if there is a texture to my world, it is the texture to be found in this film - from the ordinary happenstance of people rising from beds to eat, to the setting out to do a day's work, to the fear and casual abuse perpetrated by authority upon the helpless and ordinary person.  One does not "enter a picture" in watching this film, but into the very condition and state of living to be experienced in the 16th century.

I remain astounded. 


Butch said...

I'll have to check it out.

Surprised to find this is the only entry with the "Film" label. Alexis's movie reviews should be a regular feature!

Arduin said...

That actually does sound like it would be an interesting thing, and not just in a "movies to apply to D&D" sort of way.

I have no doubts that this film, at least, would deliver as promised.