Monday, 19 February 2018

Loving Vincent ★★★★☆

Even if you’re not an artist, you’ll still likely have heard of Vincent Van Gogh, a highly influential Impressionist painter considered one of the greatest Dutch artists of all time. Nowadays his work is adored and appreciated by all, and on a personal level, he is the artist that inspired me to take up oil painting (which I still do now). Unless you’re on the art radar though, you might not have heard of ‘Loving Vincent’, directed and written by Dorota Kobiela and High Welchman - a relatively short film dedicated to his life, death, and the mysteries surrounding both of them. Due to my passion for his art, I was slightly nervous about watching it; there’s nothing worse than a film or book that fails to engage even those that were highly engaged in the first place.

The thing that makes this film special isn’t that it’s a beautiful biopic of such an inspirational man, but that the entire film is painted in the style of Van Gogh’s work himself. It was painted by a team of over 100 artists, each highly proficient in the distinctive style, and overall uses 853 different paintings to create the final moving image. I can only imagine the work that has gone into it; I’ve painted many of Van Gogh’s paintings, sneaking him into every art project I ever did at school, but they’d always take so long - 853 of them doesn’t even bear thinking about.

The story itself is told through the eyes of Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), son of the postmaster Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd) who consequently became friends with the late Vincent Van Gogh (voiced by Robert Gulaczyk) after having to deliver so many letters between him and his brother Theo. Now, Vincent is dead Armand is tasked to deliver Vincent’s final letter to Theo, and so reluctantly sets off to find him. Theo has also passed away though, and as he searches for someone to deliver the letter to he also discovers many conflicting opinions surrounding Vincent’s death.

Despite it being widely accepted that Van Gogh committed suicide, every since the 2011 theory explored in this film came to air there’s been a lot more speculation about the fact that maybe it isn’t all it seems. ‘Loving Vincent’ does a good job of exploring this, though it also doesn’t come to a standalone conclusion, meaning you’ll probably still be pondering it after you’ve watched it. Admittedly the story could have been slightly more capturing - certain parts could have been explored more in-depth, and the switches between Armand’s present and Vincent’s past through dialogue become somewhat repetitive after a while. It’s still intriguing though, but I wonder if maybe its target audience is solely people already interested in the life of Van Gogh, rather than also including those yet to know about it. 

There’s a real emotional element to it all though, and I think even those new to the Van Gogh scenes would struggle to feel nothing as we witness harrowing scenes like Van Gogh crying and bleeding into his pillow now missing an ear, set against haunting melodies and prolonged as bleak paintings that etch into your mind.

What makes this film work (and again, is most likely targeted towards the artists among us) is just how beautiful the painted side of it is. If you are an artist then you’ll spend half of the film going “Oh look, that’s Starry Night On The Rhone/Café Terrace At Night/Wheatfield With Crows!” and the other half itching to get your paints out and find the nearest field to capture. The rotoscoping isn’t perfect (it rarely is, though), but seeing it in Van Gogh’s style is so much more pleasing than just watching a standard film. The first fully-painted film ever to grace our screens, ‘Loving Vincent’ is something pretty special. It may have taken 7 years to complete, but it was worth every second. 

Hannah Read

Loving Vincent at CeX

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