By midlandsmovies, Oct 10 2017 09:26AM
Loving Vincent (2017) Dir. Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman
My own love for Vincent stemmed from a project on The Netherlands in primary school all the way to imitating his artwork (and others in the post-impressionist movement) for my A-Levels so I was excited to hear about the development of this unique film.
If you have yet to hear, Loving Vincent is a hybrid animation/real-life film in a similar vein to Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Like those films drawings were placed on top of acted out and pre-recorded scenes – its inherent strange rotoscoping perfect for the latter’s Philip K. Dick source material. Here however each frame of the film (around 65,000 of them) is an oil painting. 100 plus artists used Van Gogh-style painting techniques to capture the feel and style of his varied body of work.
The film’s story is a mystery concerning the investigations of Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a distant friend of the Van Gogh’s whose father, Chris O'Dowd as Postman Roulin, sets him on a trail to deliver one of Van Gogh’s last letters. Arriving in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, he speaks to a number of people who interacted with the infamous painter who each describe their relationship with the artist during the last few weeks of his life.
The film flashes back from the colourful brushstrokes of his later portraits and rural landscapes to a more realistic black and white palette during the recollections of past events which is a brilliant nod to his developing styles from one stage of his life to another.
From an introduction at The Night Café (1888) and Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin (1841–1903) the film deliberately introduces locations and characters as exact replicas of their painted canvases, before moving to the drama of the scene itself. For Van Gogh lovers it’s very much a case of Spot-the-Painting but doesn’t detract from the artistry or drama for those less familiar.
The drama itself is mostly subtle and understated as the delivery of the letter turns into a noir detective narrative as Roulin begins to uncover some ambiguities regarding Vincent’s alleged suicide. With the few outbursts done in a swirling application of paint it was a delight to see both intimate conversations and volatile fist fights animated in oils. The music by Clint Mansell echoes some of his previous work and the string quartet ratchets up tension when needed and like the visuals, mixes a nice balance of intensity and gentleness across scenes.
Robert Gulaczyk as Vincent van Gogh is really a fleeting player in the story as other characters describe his past, but he does a lot with his body and face rather than a string of dialogue scenes. This keeps the emphasis on his enigmatic legacy and how he was a quiet, yet completely ‘visual’ personality.
Great support comes in the form of Jerome Flynn as Dr. Gachet, Saoirse Ronan as his daughter Marguerite Gachet, Helen McCrory as the feisty Louise Chevalier and John Sessions as Père Tanguy – each one bringing depth and nuance to their roles and further fleshing out this historic world.
It’s great to see the detective story secure a strong driving narrative to what could be seen as simply a gimmick, however the visuals really are the big-top draw here. Unlike anything I’ve seen before, when the drama slows, the cinema felt like your favourite museum with the audience simply ruminating on the almost-static images. Yet when they moved, the glory of the brushwork and talented painters who recreated Van Gogh’s style is clear to see – and a joy to behold.
It’s all too easy to allude to this as a masterpiece but a masterpiece it is nonetheless. In the end, Loving Vincent provides a portrait of a conflicting and unknowable sequence of past events that maintains the celebrated artist’s place in the art world. The story, music, acting and, of course, the unique painted design combine perfectly to create a dazzling canvas to be studied over, and most of all enjoyed, like Vincent’s best works already are.
Midlands Movies Mike