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Lech Majewski • Director

Layers of perspective


- Director Lech Majewski has harnessed his lifelong interest in Breugel and the cooperation of scholars and artists to create a work of art that meets the painter on his own terms

Lech Majewski • Director

Cineuropa: What was your inspiration for The Mill and the Cross [+see also:
film review
making of
interview: Lech Majewski
film profile

Lech Majewski: Michael Gibson's brilliant book [The Mill and the Cross – Peter Bruegel's "Way to Calvary"] was the obvious inspiration. I've been fascinated by Breugel since I was a teenager, but I was more fascinated by "Children's Games" and "The Tower of Babel" and his winter landscapes. It wasn't the painting I was attracted to so much as it was Gibson's text.

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Is the dialogue we hear in the film in Gibson's book?
No. We had to make it up, Gibson and me. His book is a brilliant piece of writing but there's no dialogue in it.

How did you cast the film?
Michael York saw a retrospective of my work and wanted to work with me. Charlotte Rampling saw my Rose Room opera in Paris and she offered to work with me. Rutger Hauer didn't know my work that well. But when he was growing up in Holland, there was a copy of Bruegel's painting on the wall of his bedroom. So he recognized it as a sign and he jumped on the bandwagon right away.

Where did the financing come from?
Financing came from the Polish Film Institute, Polska telewize and from Swedish money. We also had the support of Angelus Silesius, a non-profit organization of which I'm the president which supports art and science. The cash budget was very, very limited. But we had the contributions of the Odeon post-production house, who basically wanted to show off their potential. Post-production took more than two years. Our British production manager estimated that this movie, from pre-production to post-production, would have cost £23m if we had done it in London. Post-production alone would have been £18m.

How did you combine the painting with the live action?
The visual effects were done by Odeon, in Warsaw. Every shot is a combination. We started by taking the characters out of the canvas. Then when we analyzed the perspective on the computer, we figured out that this is not a single perspective but various perspectives. We think Bruegel was using various sketches from different points of view when he was painting.

We photographed and we filmed the individual perspectives. The rocks you can photograph, for example, but the grass and trees you have to film because of the movement. There are layers and layers of perspective. On average each shot has 40 layers. The shot at the beginning of the film, where you have all these people standing about, is 172 layers. Every figure that you see was put into the film separately.

Wide Management has sold the film widely since it premiered at Sundance.
You think so? The truth is, nobody really believes in the commercial value of this film. But I know it has sold to Spain, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile; Japan and South Korea; the United States and Canada; Australia and New Zealand; Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France.

You're showing the film at museums. Was this part of your original plan?
More and more of my work is shown in museums, so I can't say this didn't cross my mind. Yes, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which is home to the original painting. We had a fantastic screening at the Louvre in Paris. Charlotte Rampling came from London, where she's filming a movie, her son's directorial debut. The crowd was enthusiastic. People were standing and clapping for seven or eight minutes. The theatre seats 500, but there was another hundred at least sitting on the steps. There are more museums in the midst of negotiations. They want very much to help this movie.

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