Polish director Lech Majewski’s narrative is the story of how Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted his masterpiece 'The Way to Calvary' in 1564. It relates of the painstaking way that Bruegel took with every minute detail of all the many characters and action that take place on his canvas. What few words are spoken are mainly by Bruegel himself as he explains some of his thought process behind each of the tableaus to Jonghelinck his Patron. The main action of the film is the observation of the daily lives of all the local peasant families, the townspeople and the militia that are the players in this piece. Majewski includes no commentary on this, so many things that happen such as the cow being wheeled around in a cart and its owner being seized and bound to a cartwheel that is hoisted in the sky on a pole and pecked to death by vultures (?), happen without any explanation, and are at times, confusing to say the least.
It is unquestionably one of the most stunningly beautiful movies of the year. The scenery and the sets (Majewski seamlessly combines both & uses green screen work) are visually quite breathtaking, and are dramatically lit to make the vast Flanders countryside simply glow. The costumes are so remarkable that they steal the attention away from the actors at times.
I had been attracted by the movie because one of its three stars was Charlotte Rampling, but in fact she plays Mary who has very little to do and even less to say, apart from the fact that she is 'helpless'. The wonderful Rutger Hauer was a very convincing Bruegel, but Michael York as his Patron was bad enough to qualify as camp, and one can only hope that he sticks to his career in voiceovers in the future.
A visual treat, that I am glad I didn’t miss.