This is my review of Loving Vincent [DVD].
Unlike any film I have seen before, this hundred minute dramatisation of the differing explanation of Van Gogh’s death consists entirely of a remarkable animation of nearly sixty-seven thousand oil-paintings, skilful copies of ninety-four of his pictures, into which the characters have been painted in new poses as required.
The continual movement applied to Van Gogh’s broad strokes and swirls of colour are fascinating, as is the brilliant way actors who have been chosen for their likeness to real people whom he painted such as his physician Doctor Gachet, latter’s daughter Marguerite or the paint supplier and art dealer Père Tanguy, are given such life-like expressions and mannerisms recognisable as typical of the actors used. Although every effort has been made to use Van Gogh’s paintings, where it has been necessary to create new settings, these are shown in black-and-white, again painted, as in the scenes of his brother Theo, himself dying and mentally tortured soon after Vincent’s demise.
The theme may sound sombre, but is touched with moments of humour as the hard-drinking Armand Roulin, son of Vincent’s postman, always wearing his distinctive canary yellow jacket which apparently drove the film’s artists mad as they constantly cleared canvases to repaint it at another angle, fulfils his father’s instruction to deliver by hand to a suitable person Vincent’s last letter. Initially reluctant to do this, Armand becomes obsessed with the desire to obtain the truth and justice for the artist who may have been the victim of manslaughter rather than fallen prey to suicide in a psychotic moment.
Although there is something to be gained from coming to this film, as I did, with no prior knowledge of how it was made, there are some informative short videos about this on Youtube.
I also think it is helpful to be aware of the essential facts of Van Gogh’s life: he was a difficult man subject to great enthusiasms and mood swings, probably bi-polar. Taking up painting in his late twenties, he was supported entirely by his long-suffering brother Theo, never or barely selling a single picture in his lifetime. Captivated by the brilliant colours in the sunshine of Provence, he hoped to establish an artist’s colony there, only succeeding in falling out with Gauguin in a failed attempt to get this started. He was astonishingly prolific in his production of both paintings and letters decorated with drawings in the margins.
This film needs to be seen more than once, requiring intense concentration in the attempt to take in every clever or beautiful visual effect, as when the tossing of some object like an apple core prompts a flock of cawing crows to flap up out of a cornfield.
The “storyline” sometimes seems a little disjointed, the black-and-white scenes are the least satisfactory, often appearing blurred and weird, and the overall dreamlike quality may distance viewers from the characters. Yet the film still creates a sense of poignancy, and its technical achievement outweighs any minor criticism. ( A subjective view, but the choice of an inferior new recording in preference to Don Maclean’s original version of “Starry, starry night” in the final moments seems ill-judged.)
The visionary genius of conceiving this film in the first place, and the teamwork involved in producing it over a period of years seem to justify a string of awards.