Of all the shows and clips and films that I’ve ever watched that were made by and performed by Monty Python – there is one line that for some reason I’ve never forgotten. It is when three red-robed, faux-16th century pseudo-clerics bounce into a modern day room making the announcement that “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”
In Monte Python, the inquisition would show up at the most inopportune times and in the most unexpected of places. The point being that the Inquisition itself was really just a smaller and more immediate and local version of a religious war. No one, with all the certainty that they might muster, ever wanted the terror of religious persecution to come knocking at their door.
Well that Inquisition is at the center of Polish Film director Lech Majewski’s film called The Mill and the Cross. Actually it is the 16th century artist Pieter Bruegel who is at the center – and even more specifically, it is his painting called The Way to Cavalry that is the subject of the film. But it is not just that simple.
As my film discussion/review colleague, Didion of the Feminema website has just done a post on this film, and two others here, with the aim being to bring to our attention the fact that not every film is about super heroes, cops, drugs, warfare, comic books, cartoons, or sex. Some films don’t depend on a narrative plot or on dialogue. In fact, this film’s methodology is innovative and new. It crosses film with art, and art history, and that’s just the starting point. In her view this is so cutting edge that it is worthwhile to invest your time to watch these films.
Basically the film is how Bruegel created his painting but it is not told in the way it might be if it were a TV documentary, or a historical drama, or if it was a lecture in an art history course in college.
Through animation, cgi effects, green screens, and other modern day marvels of film technology, as well as a stupendous amount of imagination and live actors – we are transported back to 16th century Flanders. We meet Bruegel played by Rutger Hauer, his wife Mary, played by Charlotte Rampling, and his patron played by Michael York.