A moving pastiche of 65,000 paintings hand-made by over a hundred artists, Loving Vincent is a technical and artistic victory in and of itself. With a running time of an hour and 34 minutes, the film follows the character of Armand Roulin (the son of Van Gogh’s friend and postman) as he sets off to deliver the last letter the painter ever wrote.
Roulin travels to Auvers-sur-Oise, where Van Gogh spent his last days before committing suicide. This is also where he so famously cut off his ear before gifting it to a woman he had slept with. A quaint and picturesque village, Auvers-sur-Oise has become stuff of folk legend and tales about the famed painter.
Having painted more than 800 pieces in his adult life, Van Gogh only sold a single painting during his lifetime. Today, his renowned Portrait of Dr. Gachet is purportedly worth more than USD 82 million. The Dutch artist began painting very late in his life having tried his hand at many petty professions before discovering his passion. It was widely known that his artistic pursuits were hugely funded by his brother, Theo.
Loving Vincent follows Roulin’s exploration of Auvers-sur-Oise in order to find Dr. Gachet – Van Gogh’s confidant and psychiatrist. During the course of his stay, Roulin begins to question the nature of Van Gogh’s death, suspecting foul play. He looks into Dr. Gachet and other local bullies who might’ve contributed to the painter’s death. During his interrogation, he meets many of the village folk (all of whom have appeared in Van Gogh’s paintings).
What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love?
Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman take liberties in narrating Van Gogh’s life. However, what’s more interesting than the winding narrative is the film's philosophy. A known truism by Van Gogh goes like this: “the way to know life is to love many things”. Loving Vincent draws the viewer in to think about the nature of art and love, and the love of art and nature.
Here we do not talk about love in the way of eros or romance – moreover, the film talks about the simplicity of appreciation and fervour in admiration. Van Gogh’s body of work resonates so heavily till this day because of its straightforward veneration of nature and of the minutia of daily life. Love can be found in the smallest things, as it is often said, and Loving Vincent explores this with each cinematic frame in the film.
Creating the film was no easy task. Actors had to perform scenes against a green screen, digital slides of which were translated into oil paintings per frame. Essentially an animation, the film aspires to many things: paying tribute to post-impressionist portraiture, pushing the boundary of film and animation as practice, and challenging the possibilities of storytelling.
Here we look closely at the idea of ‘every frame a painting’, often used by film critics when describing the works of great filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa, Wong Kar Wai, or Emmanuel Lubezki. For something much more recent, we can look at Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049.
What do these works have to do with Loving Vincent? The commonality of film in our day and age as a consumptive medium has numbed many viewers into appreciating the same kinds of cinematography and narration. This should be challenging enough for the filmmaker to create a work that is not mere product or formulae. It is important to remember here that the digital age has opened many posibilities in filmography (and the world of art itself), so it is incredibly refreshing to encounter a work that does not shy away from pushing boundaries and testing the limits of the craft.
Loving Vincent imagines itself as a tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, but really, it can be seen as a practice in metacriticism. It looks into the film industry and confronts its stagnancy. The movie in its totality – from its execution, collaboration, and distribution – muses on Van Gogh’s legacy and uses this to question the role of art in society, and vice versa.
Loving Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh is a myth that takes home in each of his paintings. The man and the artist will always be open to interpretation and multiplicity of meaning. And this is exactly what Loving Vincent explores and challenges. In bringing to life the myth, does he becomes more knowable or that much more elusive? The film challenges not only the essence of art, but moreover, the weight of telling a story -- whether it be through a still-painting or a moving animation.
Beyond this, it can be argued that Loving Vincent doesn’t aspire to contextualise the famous painter in today’s milieu, but rather, it offers the audience a layered criticism of many concepts that envelop the world of art, film, and humanity. A loner all his life, the irony of Van Gogh's fame today is inescapable. What does it mean to be known? Or moreso, to be loved?
A stellar film in its craftmanship and aspiration, Loving Vincent is a must-see for art-lovers, movie buffs, or simply those who want to know more about the man behind the famous Starry Night. Was he really as eccentric as he is known to be? Why did he cut his ear? Catch this stunning oil-painting animation to get a glimpse into Vincent Van Gogh's life, loves, and melancholy.
Watch the trailer here:
Loving Vincent is set to be released worldwide on November 1. Advanced screenings in the Philippines are available through the QCinema International Film Festival. To know more, you can visit: qcinema.ph