LOVING VINCENT

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

Stars: Voices of Chris O’Dowd, Douglas Booth, Robert Gulaczyk, Cezary Lukaszewicz, John Sessions, Jerome Flynn, Aidan Turner, Eleanor Thomlinson, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Robin Hodges.

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Vincent Van Gogh was a reclusive, enigmatic artist and complex, emotionally troubled character who suffered from depression and bouts of mental illness – after all, he did cut off his own ear – and he committed suicide in 1890. He came to painting late, but in a prolific period of creativity he painted some 860 works in the space of nine years. He only sold one painting in his life time, but his works have sold for millions posthumously.

The film is set in the small French village of Arles in 1891, a year after Van Gogh’s death. Postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd) charges his listless son Armand (Douglas Booth) with delivering a letter to Vincent’s brother Theo (Cezary Lukaszewicz). Van Gogh regularly exchanged correspondence with his brother, but somehow his final letter written before his death was misplaced. Somewhat reluctantly, Armand sets out to deliver the letter, only to learn that Theo died soon after Vincent. He tries to find out why Vincent took his own life. His search leads him to a small village where he meets paint supplier Pere Tanquy (John Sessions) who tells him about Theo’s death. Vincent’s doctor Paul Gachet (Jerome Flynn) and several other characters give some insights into Vincent’s troubled personality. There is the inn keeper’s daughter (Eleanor Thomlinson), Gachet’s daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan) and several others who had some interaction with the reclusive artist.

Loving Vincent is not a strict biopic about the artist but is more of a speculative work that tries to sift through the gossip, lies, secrets and conflicting theories surrounding his death. It unfolds a bit like a mystery. But even more significantly, Loving Vincent is a ground-breaking technical achievement as it is also the world’s first fully hand painted animated film. This is something of a labour of love for the creators, husband and wife team of Polish animator Dorota Kobiela and Oscar winning British animator Hugh Welchman, who have spent some five years on the project.

The film was shot over the course of 15 days on sets in London using real life performers, and then hand delivered to a team of some 125 artists in Gdansk in Poland. The team of artists then hand painted every frame, all 65,000 of them, in a style reminiscent of the paintings of Van Gogh himself, using his signature impasto technique, similar texture and colour palette. And all of the characters in the film are based on figures featured in Van Gogh’s paintings. In fact, the first time we meet the characters they are posed exactly as Van Gogh painted them.

Polish theatre actor Robert Gulaczyk appears in the role of Van Gogh through a series of flashbacks. The flashbacks themselves are delivered via black and white charcoal drawings which offer a sharp contrast to the bold colours of the other scenes. The background landscapes are quite gorgeous and detailed. The film has been shot in gorgeous style by cinematographer Tristan Oliver, a veteran of animated films like Paranorman, etc, while Clint Mansell’s melancholy score adds to the mood of the film.

Loving Vincent is a visually spectacular experimental film, but somehow the ambition, attention to detail and the stunning technical achievement of the project outshines the rather pedestrian nature of the script.

★★★☆

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