Review: 'Loving Vincent' is a Stunningly Gorgeous Tribute to Van Gogh
by Alex Billington
September 12, 2017
"The truth is, we cannot speak other than by our paintings." My goodness this film is gorgeous. Loving Vincent is a hand-painted, animated, cinematic tribute to the tormented life and artistic legacy of famed Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh. Beyond telling his story (through flashbacks and interviews with people who knew him), the film is painted to look like exactly his paintings. It's one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. There were times I got completely lost staring at the art, and totally stopped listening to anything anyone was saying. In terms of animation, it's groundbreaking not just because of technique, but because the artist's own style is used perfectly to tell a story about the artist's life. Watch this film for the art alone.
Loving Vincent is written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. The framework for the story is a bit odd, taking place a few years after Vincent's death in 1890. We follow a man who goes around talking with people who knew Vincent, in hopes of delivering a letter to his brother Theo. He's also attempting to figure out exactly what happened and why Vincent killed himself, if that is indeed the truth. There are times where the film is confusing, jumping to B&W flashbacks with Vincent in them, and these moments seem out of place and jumbled. By the end it all seems to come together, but I almost wish the two storylines had been told separately, so I could understand more of what happened to Vincent in his life and not try to piece it together with these bits (although, perhaps that's exactly what they intended with this narrative structure).
There's a lovely score by Clint Mansell that brings an additional layer of emotion to the story, since the discussions are often rather stale on their own. The most interesting character is Postman Roulin, played by Chris O'Dowd, with a big bushy beard (that glows in the animation). He comes across as the most wide, almost a father character to everyone in the film, and I could've listen to him speak for hours. Unfortunately I wasn't that impressed by Robert Gulaczyk as Vincent van Gogh, perhaps because I was hoping he would really bring this character to life and give us a better sense of his mind, but that never came through. The main character Armand Roulin, as played by Douglas Booth, is likable and had my attention the whole time. There is enough of a good story to keep everyone engaged, and it is a solid portrait of van Gogh's life.
More than anything else, the stunning hand-painted animation in this will be studied for years and should receive countless accolades, as it deserves as many as can be thrown at it. Animated storytelling has evolved in so many wonderful ways, between stop motion and CGI (e.g. Pixar), but this is something totally unique and awe-inspiring. It's obvious they filmed live-action actors on sets, and then painted each scene and each frame individually. First things first, we must appreciate the amount of work that went into hundreds of individual people hand-painting over 65,000 frames. Then, we must appreciate the fact that they decided to tell Vincent van Gogh's story using van Gogh's actual art style, which is meta in a breathtaking way. All of the characters are recreated exactly from van Gogh's own paintings, making it seem all the more authentic.
Vincent van Gogh's true story is very tragic, and very sad. He is the epitome of a tormented artist, who never found success or fame in his lifetime. His work only became recognized after his death, and much of his life was marred by depression, loneliness, and mental illness. But, nonetheless, he produced some of the most beautiful artwork man has ever created. I kept wondering: what would Vincent think of this film? Would he like it, would he hate it? Would he appreciate that his art has become so iconic that they made an entire film to look like it, or would he be upset by the replication and imitation of his work? These questions will never be answered, but at the very least, his inspiring artistic legacy lives on. And that is what matters the most.