How often these days do you see something truly original? Movies, books, art — it is either a recycling of old ideas or, at best, a fresh take on something that’s been done before. So it’s pretty exciting to come across a movie based on a completely new (as far as I know, at least) idea.

The Mill and the Cross is a Polish-Swedish movie about a Flemish painting, Pieter Bruegel’s The Procession to Cavalry, a painting which features more than 500 characters.

The movie begins in a sort of live recreation of the painting, the camera panning across the actors, the scenery sparse and atmospheric. Then individual aspects of the painting are played out as we are shown how the various players came to the scene.

It’s a very strange film, with almost no dialogue (and what dialogue there is is strangely stilted). Much of it is Breugel (Rutger Hauer) explaining the composition of the work, which is a loose depiction of the Spanish domination and religious persecution of the Netherlands in the mid 1500’s but which also incorporates a Virgin Mary figure, played by Charlotte Rampling, watching her son crucified by the red-robed Spanish.

The scenery is fantastic, not in a lush special effects way, but in creating a mood. I can’t say that I loved the movie, but it did create a dream-like world. My embarrassing admission that I tend not to pay much attention to the old Flemish paintings, or any of those paintings depicting events and scenes. Now, the realization that real people were often used as models and the compositions so meticulously formulated, will make me pay more attention.

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