Review: Loving Vincent
By Nisan Igdem
Created by a team of one hundred artists, and consisting of 65,000 hand-painted frames, Loving Vincent is a must-see film this year. It is the first animation done entirely in paintings, and has over 30 award nominations, most recently at this year’s Golden Globes.
The film focuses more on Vincent van Gogh’s legacy than his life, beginning one year after the artist’s death, in 1891. The postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), who has been painted by van Gogh many times, asks his son Armand (Douglas Booth) to hand deliver van Gogh’s letter to Theo, who died shortly after his brother Vincent. As Armand travels to find the contact information of Theo’s widower, he finds himself tangled in van Gogh’s suicide in Auvers-sur-Oise. Armand, who does not believe that van Gogh could have killed himself, adopts the role of a detective investigating the death of the painter. With this investigative edge at the centre of the film, it almost feels more like a murder-mystery than a biography. The audience becomes acquainted with van Gogh through the people who witnessed his life, and of course, through his paintings.
What makes Loving Vincent different than any other film about the artist is the way it uses van Gogh’s paintings. The audience experiences his art during the movie, instead of simply viewing it. The narrative is painted in the colourful style of van Gogh, the flashbacks are monochrome drawings, and the characters are introduced as they appear in van Gogh’s paintings. For instance, van Gogh’s paint supplier Père Tanguy is introduced with the same clothes and background as van Gogh’s Portrait of Père Tanguy in 1887. The film’s aspect ratio is a square, noticeably different than the usual widescreen standards mostly seen on screen today. It is this framing however, that helps each scene be understood more like a painting than a film. The visual style of the film, as well as the frequent references to the artist’s paintings are captivating, and make the audience experience van Gogh on a level more vivid than ever before.
In popular culture Vincent van Gogh is a widely used figure, with his stories romanticised, even made melodramatic. However, Loving Vincent does not aim to educate the viewer on the facts of the artist’s life, but to let the audience experience and come to understand him through his art. There is a strong emphasis on mental health, and how one can be driven from “perfectly calm” to “suicidal”. With this, and the tragic nature of the artist’s story, the film strikes an emotional tone, and leaves the audience in awe.
The film’s tagline “The truth is we cannot speak other than by our paintings” fits the story perfectly, as Armand Roulin’s search for the truth is projected to the audience by the artist’s work. Loving Vincent is a marvellous experience, both in terms of understanding the artist’s self and of the cinematic value the film possesses.
Loving Vincent, Film, directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, 2017.
‘Loving Vincent’, IMDB, 2017 (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3262342/?ref_=nv_sr_1)
‘Loving Vincent’, 2013. (http://lovingvincent.com/)
Peter Bradshaw, ‘Loving Vincent review – a dreamlike, hand-painted plunge into van Gogh Land’, The Guardian, October 2017. (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/10/loving-vincent-review-van-gogh-artist)