Poland/Sweden, 2010, 97 min
A miracle of technology in the service of the artistic imagination, Lech Majewski’s brilliant film transports its viewers into the living, breathing world of Pieter Bruegel’s dense frieze of Christ’s passion, The Way to Calvary. And live and breathe it does. Though carefully organized along symbolic axes, Bruegel’s 1564 painting sets the drama of the crucifixion within a rustic Flanders scene teeming with everyday life. (“About suffering they were never wrong, the Old Masters,” wrote W.H. Auden. “How well they understood / Its human position; how it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.”) Likewise Majewski—using computer-generated blue-screen compositing, new 3-D technology, just-so location shooting in Poland, Austria and New Zealand and a massive backdrop he painted by hand—tells the story of the painting largely through closely observed secular rituals of 16th-century Flemish daily life, in all its earth-toned grubbiness, with occasional scenes revealing Bruegel’s artistic choices and the politics of the day. Windmilling, calf-hauling, bread-peddling, villagers dancing and children horsing around take up the better part of the narrative, while cameos by Rutger Hauer (as Bruegel), Michael York (as his patron and friend) and Charlotte Rampling (as a limpid Virgin Mary) give historical context and symbolic depth. But the narrative is not the point—the extraordinary imagery is. The painting literally comes to life in this spellbinding film, its wondrous scenes entering the viewer like a dream enters a sleeping body.
In English and Flemish with subtitles. This is a World Cinema Spotlight film. Special support for this program generously provided by Visionary Circle member Diane B. Wilsey. Presented in association with San Francisco Bay Area Polish American Portal and The Polish Arts & Culture Foundation.