Loving Vincent – Film Review by David Minogue
Directors: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman
Writers: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman
Stars: Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk, Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Aidan Turner, Chris O’Dowd, Eleanor Tomlinson
Loving Vincent is the world’s first fully painted animated film. It is set in 1891, a year after Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide and speculates on the circumstance of his death. The entire film comprises of 15 paintings per second of screen time which combined to make 65,000 frames of film. 5,000 international artists applied to work on the film of which over 100 were chosen. A cast of actors were filmed who themselves bore a resemblance to the real life people that Van Gogh painted throughout his life. They were then incorporated into the film using green screen film-making techniques. The film used 94 of Van Gogh’s own paintings which are all contained within the flow of the narration. In his lifetime, Van Gogh wrote many letters including 800 to his brother Theo. The title of the film comes from the fact that Van Gogh signed each letter ‘Your Loving Vincent’. Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) features in various flashbacks through the memories of other characters. These scenes are painted in black and white as they do not depict Van Gogh’s own paintings. The main protagonist of the story is Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) who is asked by his father, the postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), to deliver a letter from Vincent to Theo. Both men are immortalised in portraits by Van Gogh. When Armand discovers that Theo is also dead he takes it on himself to investigate Van Gogh’s final weeks while living in the region of Auvers-sur-Oise.
Dorota Kobiela and the many artists who worked on Loving Vincent has very clearly created one of the most ambitious and intriguing labours of love in modern cinema. The movement of each frame is done with a moving brush stroke. At first it seems distracting but this is because it is a style that has never been fully realised to this extent. Every few scenes most people will recognise some of Van Gogh’s most famous works as they are brought to life on screen. The paintings are not all exactly as Van Gogh painted them as he used different styles throughout his career. Some have more vibrant colour added or the original painting is extended out to fill the cinema screen. The colours are wonderfully vivid but are also slightly changed to match the season depicted on screen. It is truly beautiful and captivating throughout. The flow of the narrative involves Armand conversing with various other people such as Van Gogh’s doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn) and his daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan) in order to try and fathom what happened leading up to the time of his suicide. Van Gogh did not die immediately after the attempt so different points of views are presented.
The cast is comprised of mainly British and Irish actors who each voice their characters in their own accents. Audiences are well used to actors speaking in accents in period dramas but here it proves more of an unnecessary distraction. The manner of the storyline is sometimes like a television mystery drama. It is, however, the sheer scope of the painted animation that is the film’s main focus point. If any film about an artist will make you appreciate or make you rediscover their original work again it is this film. The music by Clint Mansell is beautiful and the soundtrack also contains a particularly affecting version of Don McLean’s 1971 song Vincent which is sung by Lianne La Havas
Loving Vincent includes several incidents in Van Gogh’s life that many people are already aware of but it also explores the complexity of his mental health. Overall, it is a film that in the most original way both celebrates his artistic genius and reflects on the tragedy of his short life.