Loving Vincent, 2017.
Directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman.
Featuring the Voice Talents of Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Chris O’Dowd, Helen McRory, Holly Earl, Aidan Turner, Josh Burdett, Eleanor Tomlinson, John Sessions, James Greene, Martin Herdman, Bill Thomas, and Robert Gulaczyk.
A feature film about the life and mysterious death of Vincent Van Gogh.
It is indisputable that Loving Vincent is one of the most ambitious cinematic undertakings of the decade, perhaps all time. Touted by the crew via text before the opening credits begin, this is the world’s first animated feature entirely composed of oil paintings (65,000+ individual pieces) specifically visually reminiscent of the timeless work of its subject Vincent van Gogh. This far into cinema’s existence it’s hard to create something wholly unique and original, but this is assuredly the closest in ages to which those words apply. Technically, the paintings are based on live-action performances from various sets that included all of the actors present in the movie, but such a decision only adds to the majestic frames. I don’t know if this disqualifies Loving Vincent from Oscar attention regarding Best Animated Feature, just that it would be a crime it wasn’t in the conversation.
Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman (also pulling double as two of the three attached writers) make their feature-length debut with the mountainous sized project, wisely choosing to focus on one aspect of van Gogh’s complicated life in mind, which here is the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death believed to be a suicide. Loving Vincent unfolds as a procedural investigation conducted by a curious man sent by his postman father to deliver a letter to the brother of the tragically deceased painter (not to mention gone so soon at the young age of 38). Unfortunately, Theo Gogh is also dead which embroils detective Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) into the one-year subsequent aftermath of van Gogh’s passing, where he interviews each villager to gain an understanding of how his unorthodox mind affected their own perceptions, in turn bestowing upon Armand a greater canvas of the troubled but posthumously influential artist.
Those that are familiar with the sudden gunshot death of van Gogh and that have a functioning knowledge of what likely really happened may not find the overall narrative appealing, as it is fairly simple to accommodate the delicate intricacies of the oil painting animation style, but as someone with only a broad scope of his most famous paintings (some of which are rendered and included in the film during various flashback segments), it’s easy to be compelled. There are hints at possible homosexuality, unearthed details about interactions with two different women (one of which who routinely places flowers on his grave), signs of financial difficulty, the idea depicted that he would always be a burden on those around him, and loneliness itself explored. However, know-it-alls will still have vibrant and colorful animation to gaze upon.
Even the animation is not without fault though; sure, van Gogh’s artistic creations were masterpieces, but that style put into visual motion yields mixed results. Backgrounds and landscapes definitely are most gorgeous, while characters moving around objects or watching the movements of their mouths occasionally look awkward. Effects such as cigarette smoke or flowing rivers are on the opposite end of the spectrum, making a wonderful transition to behold. Regardless, no first attempt at anything is perfect, so it’s unjust to get overly critical about this aspect; Loving Vincent is still one of the most dazzling films of the year.
It boasts a recognizable cast that manages to give meaty material to everyone regardless of their screen time. A character can tell a two-minute story of their experiences with van Gogh never to be seen again, but their presence is felt. It’s a testament to how much of an impression he truly did make on everyone he encountered. Also, thanks to the aforementioned preamble live-action shoots, the digital faces bear a striking resemblance to the actors themselves.
Hypothetically, if Loving Vincent was absolutely terrible I would still recommend finding a way to view it, as the filmmakers have done something genuinely new. Regardless of quality, their dedicated ambition deserves to be admired. Luckily for viewers, Loving Vincent is the definition of a one-of-a-kind animated feature, and a competently crafted untangling of the mysteries surrounding the death of Vincent van Gogh that also celebrates his life work.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com