Blu-ray DVD Picks & Passes 02.12.12

The Mill & the Cross (2011) PICK

Mysteries of Lisbon (2011) PICK

Two of my personal top-10 films of 2011 are among the latest home-video releases. Both are leisurely, arty period pieces, rich with religious imagery and themes (and both for mature audiences).

The Mill & the Cross is an almost indescribable art film: a tribute to sacred art, to an artist and to the world in which he worked. The painter is Flemish Renaissance master Pieter Bruegel the Elder; the work, The Way to Calvary, Bruegel’s epic-scaled depiction of the Savior carrying his cross in a world largely unaware of the drama unfolding at its center.

Like earlier painters, Bruegel vested The Way to Calvary in contemporary garb, and the film follows suit, using an extraordinary blend of live action, 2-D and 3-D imagery, and bluescreen to bring the world of the painting, which is also Bruegel’s world, to life.

We see Breugel painting the Lord’s passion — but we also see the Passion itself, transposed into a 15th-century Flemish context. Provocatively, the red-clad officials escorting Christ to his death aren’t literal Roman soldiers, but Spanish mercenaries of Philip II, who were putting Protestant heretics to death at that time.

Catholic film scholar André Bazin wrote about the mission of art to rescue the world from transience and corruption, to capture moments and events before they slip into the irretrievable past, thus bearing witness to the hand of God in creation. The Mill & the Cross affirms this idea as resoundingly as any film I’ve seen. That’s as much as I can say here, though it’s not enough; please see my full review at for more.

Mysteries of Lisbon is an utterly different film, though no less visually rich and replete with religious themes and imagery. A sprawling, opulent Portuguese melodrama based on a 19th-century novel, it’s replete with romantic intrigues, betrayals, coincidences, affairs, secrets and revelations — rather soapy goings-on, perhaps, but elevated both by the rich 19th-century Mediterranean Catholic milieu and by director Raúl Ruiz’s exquisite visual storytelling and camerawork.

At its center is young João, whom we meet as a boy at a Catholic boarding school, presumably an orphan, probably illegitimate. The school is overseen by kindly Father Dinis (Adriano Luz), whom we come to know as a figure of boundless courage, authority and insight, with a mysterious past belying his clerical state.

Mysteries of Lisbon was released both as a six-hour TV miniseries and a 4 1/2-hour theatrical film, with an intermission (that’s the version you’ll get on DVD or Blu-ray). Think of it as a European Catholic Gone With the Wind, or a loopier counterpart to The Leopard.  


CONTENT ADVISORY: The Mill & the Cross: Some violent and grisly sequences, including crucifixion and crucifixion-like killings and a woman being buried alive; brief full female nudity (nonsexual); fleeting sexuality. Mysteries of Lisbon: Premarital and extramarital affairs, dueling violence, suicide and other soap-operaish goings-on. Subtitles. Both mature viewing.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.