I finally watched Loving Vincent. I do not have a proper explanation for why it took me so long to press play on this one. It is not that I have missed the news when the film was launched. There was a big buzz around its innovative technique and the honoring of one of the greatest painters of all times. And, for the record, one of my favourites.
Yet, here I am in awe, two years late. Without the technique of oil hand-painted live-action, Loving Vicent would just be a nice portrait of the tormented artist. But what makes it unique is the privilege to watch van Gogh’s canvas style during the entire production; from initial credits to the very end.
Over a 100 artists hand-painted the entire footage, something unprecedent. The characters are performed by real actors on sets and chroma key. Animation was produced over the real footage. Thousands of paintings were needed to fullfil the task of telling the story of van Gogh’s last weeks of life. In total, 65,000 frames in oil paints over 6 years.
An immersive experience. Are we in the world of van Gogh, looking at things from his perspective? Some people might wonder if this visual choice made it tiring for the expectator to watch the footage. My experience is the first minutes are spent entirely on admiring the pastiche instead of the plot. But this soon goes away and is replaced by a fully blended attention between those two.
The film does not tell much about who the painter was or about his life . The story focuses on his last weeks of life in Auvers-sur-Ouise, France. I find that less problematic than many film critics point out to be because this film seems to me like a tribute to his art instead of a biographical portrait. What I find problematic is the simplification of Van Gogh’s art to reach this visual effect for entertainment and the overexploration of myths surrounding his life and death instead of emphasizing the importance of his pioneer work for Expressionism. But that is how I see a tribute to Vincent van Gogh would work better. The makers of Loving Vincent had a different take on it.
The story starts one year after Vincent’s death and the plot creates a narrative of mystery exploring the theory he did not commit suicide. The plot begins with the postman Roulin — inspired by the original painting Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin— convincing and sending his son, Armand Roulin, after Theo, Vincent’s brother. Theo was the central figure on Vincent’s life, documented by the continuous financial support to the artist and the numerous letters exchanged among the two. Armand Roulin initial task was to deliver a letter from Vincent and send the Roulin’s family condolences.
He goes to Paris and finds out Theo has died 6 months after his brother. He then takes a trip to Auvers-sur-Ouise to give the letter to Vincent’s doctor. That is when his investigative journey begins. Van Gogh’s appearances on the film are flashbacks in black and white pencil drawings.
A number of famous paintings are depicted in the footage with characters brought to life from van Gogh’s original work. It is not really a spoiler to mention the mystery is not solved.
Directors: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman
Writers: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Jacek Dehnel
Stars: Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk, Helen McCrory, Josh Burdett
Running Time: 1h 34m
Genres: Animation, Biography, Crime, Drama, Mystery