FILM REVIEW: Loving Vincent

The father of modern art. A troubled soul. A murder mystery?

Loving Vincent, which premiered last night, takes place a year after Vincent Van Gogh’s death and is an unconventional film. Artist biopics are not unusual, Girl with a Peal Earring, Mr. Turna and Frieda, to name a few. Yet this film is different.

The film’s narrative is unusual in this genre, as it is more like a murder mystery or a thriller. The plot is perhaps not one you would stick with in a normal feature film. Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) is lead on a chase around France as he tries to figure out how Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) went from describing himself as ‘calm’ to taking his own life in six weeks. Largely based on Van Gogh’s letters, it achieved a great deal of authenticity. The story will introduce Roulin to some key figures in Van Gogh’s life, and in his paintings, played by the renowned actors including Chris O’Dowd, Helen McCrory, Aidan Turner and Saoirse Ronan. This wild goose chase (and at one point, a literal chase after a boy through a field) was perhaps a little too drawn out, yet it was handled beautifully, providing us with plenty of stunning paintings of Auvers with its boats and gardens. The music by Clint Mansell was also important here in transitioning between dialogue, and complimenting the complex emotions at play in the artist’s life.
Doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn), Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk), Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), and Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) 

However, it is really the making of the film that is important here. This is the first feature length film to comprise entirely of oil paintings. Using over 65,000 frames on over 1,000 canvases, Loving Vincent is disarming in its complexity. It is the perfect tribute to a great artist, an entire film created in his visual language. There are nods to 77 of Van Gogh’s paintings. It would be worth seeing simply for this milestone in filmmaking and the visual arts.

Quite apart from being a beautifully directed film and a real artistic achievement, this is an important piece in its dealings with mental illness. Although it mainly handles the topic well, it may have missed the mark a little as the very premise –How can someone go from calm to suicidal? What could we have done to help? Who is to blame?- is complicated. Indeed, the implication that there needs to be a ‘reason’ for suicide –other than mental illness- could be quite troubling for some.

Christ O'Dowd as Joseph Roulin, Van Gogh's 1888 portrait, and the animated version in the film

The credits are well worth staying in your seat for, as they contrast the actors with Van Gogh’s real paintings. This is a poignant moment, as we really glimpse life through his eyes. Furthermore, we can appreciate just how well this film brought these paintings to life. Jerome Flynn, as Doctor Gachet, is particularly well cast as the artist’s troubled doctor. Van Gogh described him as ‘sicker than I am.’ The painting became famous when it was sold for a record price of $82.5 million at auction in 1990. Van Gogh wrote of it in 1890 that it ‘may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later…’

Jerome Flynn as Doctor Gachet 

Loving Vincent
is a real work of art that will leave you blinking away the starry night from your eyes. As the first of its kind, sure to be followed by many similar ventures, it is unmissable.

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