Movie Review: ‘Loving Vincent’
Director: Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
Cast: Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCory, Chris O’Down, John Session
Plot: A year after the death of Vincent van Gogh the son of a postman is tasked with delivering the painter’s final letter to his brother. On his quest he becomes drawn into the mystery of Van Gogh and his death.
Review: First things first, we need to address the striking visual style of this biographical movie. Many scenes are based around Van Gogh’s paintings and the entire film is presented as a movie painting. Rather than take the rotoscope of digital route the film makers have opted to do something remarkable and create 65,000 individual oil paintings to create this film. After filming with actors for reference some 125 painters produced the enormous number of paintings in Van Gogh’s style (with 1,345 being discarded). The result is what appears to be a tangible, living oil painting.
With the number of films we watch over the course of a year we don’t often get to use the word ‘unique’, but here it is applicable. The 6 year long production is a marvel of logistics and commitment to a creative vision.
Often during a movie with a visual gimmick – such as 3D or rotoscoping – the viewer stops noticing after the first act. This is absolutely not the case here. The film switches to photorealistic black and white imagery during flashbacks and uses Van Gogh’s bold and kinetic brushstrokes for the present day, often flattening the depth of field to play with perspective. Some of the long tracking and panning shots are mesmerising.
So yeah, the film is a visual masterpiece of the kind we’ve never seen before. Time to step back and look at the film as a whole.
The assumption is that the viewer has a cursory understanding of who Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) was, what his legacy is and what the tragedy of his life become. We touch on his early life and his relationship with the artistic community, in addition to the business with the ear, but this is all about his final days. Our entry point character, Armand Roulin (Booth), is a real person, as is everyone he encounters. They were all painted by Van Gogh, and recreations of these paintings are worked into the cinematography.
Roulin finds himself drawn into Van Gogh’s world and we see the suicide explanation for his death come under question, as well as the type of character he was. This becomes quite revealing even for those familiar with the official account. It does unfold episodically as Roulin encounters new people who tell their side of the story, providing pieces of a larger, unfinished product, and most of the information is provided through dialogue. For this reason the story itself feels quite dry. It never quite hits the emotional resonance the directors are aiming for.
You should go and see this for the sheer uniqueness of the painted style, which is incredibly well realised. The film-makers have not cut any corners and the end result is an unequivocally brilliant visual treat.
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN