Review: Loving Vincent

Robert Gulaczyk as Vincent Van Gogh in "Loving Vincent" (Breakthru Productions)

The date was July 27th, 1890.

With a beard as coarse as the edges on a gravestone, an underappreciated artist stumbled towards his death bed in the idyllic village of Auvers.

He had been shot in the stomach, purportedly by his own hand.

This irrevocably forces his cast of friends and close associates to think introspectively about their role in his life – and it is these relationships that the world’s first fully painted feature film explores.

Funded through a Kickstarter campaign with additional help from the Polish Film Institute, directors Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela organised a team of 115 painters to prepare 65,000 oil paintings to be used as frames in the film.

But what of the story? It is creative fiction in the form of a mystery that asks: was Van Gogh’s suicide an inevitable product of his battle with depression and anxiety – or did ‘society’ ruin his chances of happiness?

And it’s an incredibly touching tale of alienation, mental illness, and descent (or ascent) into spiritual oblivion.

Of course, you don’t have to like it. Or you might appreciate it purely on the grounds of its artwork, because while it’s more innovative than your favourite sci-fi movie, you might feel it doesn’t work as a movie at all.

But at its heart this film conveys the subjective nature of art criticism – which includes the medium of film criticism so – regardless of how you feel films should ‘work’ – no one can deny that this movie far exceeds what other modern biopics, such as Lincoln or The Aviator, have achieved.

The tale is initiated by Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), who plays the son of a postmaster (Chris O’Dowd). The boy is given an unopened letter to deliver to Van Goth’s brother a year after the artist’s death.

Thus unfolds a serious exploration of a historical figure, treated with imagination masturbation and swirls of depression pornography. That’s not a salacious assessment; this movie confronts the obsession with the nature of beauty head on, in highly sensual way.

At the beginning, Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) is presented as a character few of us would care to spend time with – cantankerous, banal, and painfully over-polite.

By the end though? Well you’ll have to see the movie to find out how sympathy is elicited from you for the man fuelled by obsession over the idea of perfection, but for me – well. If my heart had a body, it was bought to its knees at the end of this outstanding tribute to the man dubbed the father of modern art.

As absurd it may sound, Loving Vincent explains to the audience how one man was so sensitive to the natural world that he harboured a deep respect for aspects of the physical world as infinitesimal as empty air.

And if we could slow time down, the audience could see how dedicated the team of painters were in creating this film, recreating an empty sky with painstaking brush strokes.

Their rigorous effort alone perhaps merited the films accomplishment of winning the most popular international feature award at this year’s Vancouver Film festival, the Audience award at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, the Golden Goblet for best Animation Film at the Shanghai International Film Festival, as well as nominations for the best original score in an animated film at the Hollywood Music in Media awards.

It has the detail of a Percy Jackson film and the undertones of a mysterious Ivan Sen picture, burning slowly to its conclusion like an old cigarette.

In Jim Jarmush’s Paterson, the bus driver comments that he goes “through trillions of molecules that move aside to make way for me, while on both sides more stay where they are”.

This existential musing leaks into the sumptuous universe engendered in Loving Vincent. As the film ended, I watched dust motes float around me, scorched by the light of the projector.

In short, go and see it. You won’t regret it. – Ashley Flockhart (@flockhartashley)