There have been many movies focusing on famous Dutch Post-Impressionist painter and ear-mangler Vincent van Gogh, imaginatively titled stuff like ‘Lust for Life’, ‘Vincent’, ‘Vincent & Theo’ and ‘Van Gogh’. This newest one, ‘Loving Vincent’, is filled with contrasting and conflicting stories, theories and recollections, and descriptions of events from those who crossed paths with the talented (and occasionally psychotic) artist on a daily basis.
Inspired by more than 100 of his paintings and 800 of his letters, ‘Loving Vincent’ explores the final months of the then little-known post-impressionist painter and his untimely death in 1890 at the age of 37 - an event that remains shrouded in mystery and speculation. The story is visually interpreted through his paintings, including many of Van Gogh’s most iconic portraits and landscapes, told in his own words and those of the people who knew him, from his brother Theo to his friend and fellow painter Paul Gauguin.
Set after Van Gogh’s passing, Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth, ‘The Limehouse Golem’, ‘Mary Shelley’) comes upon a letter from the fabled painter to his brother Theo before his death, and begins the journey to deliver it. In the process, Roulin encounters all the people close to Vincent before his death: Chris O'Dowd (‘St. Vincent’, ‘The Program’) is the postman, John Sessions (‘Denial’) plays art supplier Pete Tanguy, Eleanor Thompson is the innkeeper's daughter Adaline, Jerome Flynn (‘Game of Thrones’) is the controversial Dr Gachet, Saoirse Ronan (‘Brooklyn’) is Gachet's daughter Margarita, Helen McCrory (‘Penny Dreadful’) plays the disgruntled Gachet housekeeper, Aidan Turner (‘Poldark’) is the boatman, and Robert Gulaczyk is Vincent. Since these people were all part of Van Gogh's artworks, it is fascinating to see them come to animated “life”. Through them, we are taken back to key moments of the artist’s life, mesmerisingly displayed through living oil paintings.
Generated by 65,000 paintings and 4,500 litres of oil paint by 125 painter animators, ‘Loving Vincent’ is billed as the first fully painted animated feature film. Under the hands of directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, blue clouds swirl over a village; a night sky blinks with lacy stars; a butter-yellow sun sinks over a tangerine-coloured field; a dim tavern is lit by gold and green rings of light - all rendered in visibly textured brushstrokes. Rain falls in dashes of straight grey lines; a head of blond hair catches a bit of blue from the sky.
First shot as a live action depiction and then "painted" over (essentially using a form of rotoscoping, like Richard Linklater’s ‘A Scanner Darkly’ and ‘Waking Life’ or Ralph Bakshi’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Fire and Ice’), the film is a kinetic work of art. Credit is due to Poland and UK-based Break Thru Films, known for their Oscar-winning animated short ‘Peter and the Wolf’, with funding via the Polish Film Institute (and partially through a Kickstarter campaign).
First shot as a live action depiction and then "painted" over, the film is a kinetic work of art.
Although it’s easy to become sucked in by the unique visuals of ‘Loving Vincent’, Clint Mansell's score helps to create an emotional atmosphere throughout the film, capturing the melancholy as well as joy of Van Gogh.
The end product is an exceptional, ground-breaking film. You cannot help but wonder how Van Gogh himself would have felt to see his extraordinary visceral paintings rendered liquidly to life as a moving film. ‘Loving Vincent’ is a rich visual feast that homages the spirit of a great artist who burned to receive recognition for his talent while he was alive.