Film Review: Loving Vincent

What: Loving Vincent (BreakThru Productions & Trademark Films)

Who: Written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

Where & when: Adelaide Film Festival October 14th, national release November 2nd

Image Credit: Adelaide Film Festival

As a cinematic subject, the exploration of Vincent van Gogh’s life is less than original. The artist has proven an enigmatic character fulfilling the cliché of a tortured artist; a worthy subject to fulfil society’s hunger for titillation. Loving Vincent presents a hauntingly beautiful portrait of the artist, his art form, and the art of making film. Centred on the final days of Vincent van Gogh’s life, this film reimagines the artist’s death at the age of 38 through the recollections of key witnesses two years later. As we follow the lead Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) trying to posthumously deliver a long-forgotten letter from van Gogh (relatively unknown Robert Gulaczyk), we as viewers also navigate the personal relationships the artist formed in his final years. Where this film deviates from the usual biography is the bold decision from filmmakers Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman to render the entire film an homage to van Gogh’s broad and textured impressionistic brushstrokes. The film pays tribute to the artist’s influence on Western art history by animating the entire movie through painting.

Image credit: Loving Vincent

Originating as a seven-minute short, Loving Vincent was eventually expanded to become the world’s first completely painted feature film. The entire film was shot with a live action cast against a green screen, with each frame being painstakingly painted by 100 artists, culminating in 65,000 individual paintings being produced. The attention to detail in each and every frame is meticulous. I found myself captivated by the simplicity of the changing light and shadows in the foreground or the delicate movement of a gas lamp affected by the breeze of a nearby open window. Each frame of the film presented a new opportunity to analyse the richness of van Gogh’s portrayal of simple French life. The sense of immediacy and urgency that van Gogh captured in his rich palettes is only enhanced by the filmmakers’ homage to the artist’s sense of movement and fluidity. By setting the artwork in a film format, the viewer is invited to view the world as Van Gogh imagined it; vivid, intense and ever changing.

Image credit: Loving Vincent

Despite the technical achievements of Loving Vincent, the film felt stilted at times. The animation could feel both jumpy and distracting from the core story. The incredible ensemble of actors including Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan, Chris O’Dowd and Helen McCrory are unable to breathe life into predictable dialogue and stagnant conversations. This is redeemed by Clint Mansell’s incredibly moving score, which not only harmonises the dialogue and animation but also sets a haunting pace and tone for the entire film. Ultimately Loving Vincent left me conflicted – the art historian in me adored being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of imagery to unpack and analyse on such a vast scale. However, I could argue that this film felt superficial: it presented no new perspective on the life of van Gogh, nor did it seek to.

Image credit: Loving Vincent

But perhaps this is the intention: the film does not seek to add to the already rich discourse on van Gogh, but instead aims to suspend the emotion of viewing a van Gogh painting over 120 minutes. If this is the intention, then Loving Vincent is a success – van Gogh’s impressionistic swirls continue to haunt me. I thoroughly recommend seeing Loving Vincent at the movies on a wide screen.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Courtney Barry

* Check out if you would like to view individual paintings or further read about the many artists who contributed to Loving Vincent

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