Film Review: Loving Vincent (2017)
Director: Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman
Review by Belle McIntyre
The remarkable achievement of this film is that it seems as if it is the embodiment of being inside Van Gogh’s brain. Not a comfortable place to be. More like an acid trip on steroids.
The animators have managed to reproduce not just the look, but the act of painting the iconic images which are so familiar to all of us. It feels as if we have stepped inside of all of these paintings at the same time as we are engaged in the making of it. We become the brush strokes.
The genius of Van Gogh as the subject for this technique of animation is that all of the central characters are familiar to anyone who knows his work. So, the fact that their movements and voices are performed by actors on sets overlaid and transformed by the myriad oil-painted images to create their animated movement is both mesmerizing and confounding. (The English accents feel discordant.) The film is also aided by the voluminous quantities of letters both to and from Van Gogh, his brother, his dealer and his diaries.
The focus is narrowly based on the last few months of his tormented life leading up to his alleged suicide. The main character is Armand Roulin, the postmaster’s son in Auvers-sur-Oise, the town where Van Gogh lived and died, is trying to unravel the discrepancies surrounding the fatal shooting. The irony being that he had little contact with Van Gogh, as he was living in Paris. Yet he is on a mission as an amateur detective to uncover alternative details. To that end he sleuths around and interviews everyone and anyone which allows for the timing to move forward and backward as new details are uncovered or disputed. It also allows for the maximum number of familiar faces, locations and paintings to be incorporated into the story. Much is revealed but nothing is proven. There are more questions than answers.
I found the animation initially rather dizzying and annoying, but ultimately settled into the lushness of it and the pleasure of contemplating how on earth it was accomplished. For certain, it elucidates the radical disparity between the uplifting beauty of the paintings and the dark despair of their creator. I would say that it is an aesthetic triumph of vision and technical virtuosity and that made it well worth the time.