Mark Reviews Movies

Loving Vincent

LOVING VINCENT

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

Cast: The voices of Douglas Booth, Eleanor Tomlinson, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Jerome Flynn, Chris O'Dowd, Robert Gulaczyk, John Sessions, Aidan Turner

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements, some violence, sexual material and smoking)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 9/22/17 (limited); 10/13/17 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 12, 2017

The opening text of Loving Vincent informs us that a team of more than 100 artists worked on the animated movie. This is noteworthy because those artists were painters, working with oil paint. Some other details about the production of include the facts that it's made up of about 65,000 oil paintings, that it took those artists six years to complete those paintings, and that all of the paintings are, in one way or another, based on some work or works by Vincent van Gogh. Every frame of the feature-length movie is a painting, making it the first of its kind and the result of some obvious labor. It's a novelty, really, for better and for worse.

Credit must be given when and where it's due, and it's obvious that this was a painstaking project—one that must have had a lot of passion and love behind it. It's almost worth seeing as an experiment in mixed media, combining an old art form (oil painting) with a more modern one (rotoscoped animation). It's just a shame that the movie doesn't transcend the notion of being experimental.

The story takes place after Van Gogh's death by suicide at the age of 37. After shooting himself in the chest, he walked back to the inn where he was staying in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, and died from the wound about a day later. One year after that, Armand Roulin (voice of Douglas Booth), the son of Vincent's postman (voice of Chris O'Dowd), has been tasked to deliver the painter's final letter to his beloved, younger brother Theo. Upon traveling to Paris, Armand discovers that Theo, too has died—several months after his elder brother's death, apparently unable to cope with the loss. This leaves our protagonist with an impossible task, so he goes to the town where Vincent spent his final months, looking for someone who might know what to do with the letter.

The other impossible task is to uncover the circumstances of Vincent's death, which the screenplay by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, and Jacek Dehnel (The first two also serving as the movie's directors) presents as a mystery of sorts. Vincent had emotional and psychological issues, of course—most famously in that incident involving the severing of his left ear and his gifting it to a woman working at a brothel. Many knew of this incident, as well as the painter's depressed mood, leading to an assortment of rumors and his being ostracized from polite society.

Those closest to Vincent also saw that the artist's mood had improved about a year before his death. Adeline (voice of Eleanor Tomlinson), the daughter of the inn's owners, thought Vincent was relatively cheerful during his time in town—constantly working, come rain or shine, and seeing his doctor on a regular basis.

The screenplay attempts to weave biographical details of Van Gogh throughout Armand's investigation of the painter's death. We briefly learn of his childhood as the eldest son of two, inattentive parents, who placed all of their hopes in a baby that was stillborn, leaving none for the son who came after. His stop-and-go career attempts come and go in a flash, and there's the fact that he only started painting at the age of 28. The rest is mostly a blur of ill health, a lack of success (Only one of his 900 paintings was sold in his lifetime), and debts to his family-man brother, who started struggling financially in order to keep his brother in supplies.

At first, one watches the movie with an eye, an appreciation, and quite some admiration for the way that Kobiela, Welchman, and their team of artists have stayed true to Van Gogh's style (The end credits are, surprisingly, one of the more fascinating sections of the movie, as an animated scrapbook reveals the filmmakers' basis for locales and inspiration for various characters—all of them matched to Van Gogh's paintings and some with footnotes about the real people). Those swirling lines of clouds and the circular bursts of golden stars come to life in the movie's opening and closing moments, turning the form of The Starry Night into an impressive display of how the movie's own form has the potential to both honor Van Gogh and see his work in a unique way.

The rest of the backdrops, either taken directly from Van Gogh's works or heavily inspired by them, are, naturally, beautiful. The characters, painted over footage of the actors, exist in a strange place, looking a bit too detailed at times to say that they match the painter's style. It's a minor point, but it's not nothing.

A bigger issue exists within the story itself, which results in plenty of exposition and little genuine insight. There's a lot of dialogue in a movie that seems to exist as a primarily visual experience (Kobiela and Welchman's constant use of close-ups and two-shots during these lengthy scenes seems like a waste of visual potential), and much of the talking becomes repetitive information about Vincent's ever-changing mood and some speculation about the circumstances of his death. After a while, it becomes clear that the screenplay has created an unnecessary mystery out of a tragic life. It's that decision that means Loving Vincent, while understanding Van Gogh's work, is less concerned with the artist's life.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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