Loving Vincent tells the sorrowful tale surrounding the controversial death of famed artist Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) in 1890s France. Vincent van Gogh was a man in torment, but he was a man who was in awe of the deep beauty around him. Not only in the rural environment but in people as well. When van Gogh’s postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd) finds a letter from Vincent addressed to his brother, he sends his son Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) on a journey to deliver it. On his journey, he meets a number of characters who all have tales of Vincent. Some good, some bad. But one thing is certain, Vincent’s death impacted everyone in a major way.
I saw Loving Vincent at The Errol Flynn Filmhouse in Northampton (England). However, very few chain cinemas were showing this film in the UK. Yet, I’m not remotely surprised. Artsy films like this always get a very limited release and go under the radar. However, with Loving Vincent, we’re living history. Wind River lasted two weeks as my #1 of 2017 and now Loving Vincent has knocked Taylor Sheridan’s neo-western for six. Written by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Jackek Dehnel and directed by Kobiela and Welchman, Loving Vincent is the first of its kind, bringing art to life. My cousin called this film “artsy fartsy” and perhaps he is right: it’s an acquired taste and I loved it.
Loving Vincent is an achievement in the animated film, it’s an achievement in arthouse cinema and it’s an achievement in cinema, plain and simple. It’s one of the finest films of the decade, and perhaps even since the turn of the millennium. It tells the tale of one of the greatest artists to have ever lived and regardless of the themes it explores, it is an absolute knockout (if it is right to say that). “Great artists are not peaceful souls” says Postman Roulin and he’s absolutely right. Many filmmakers have depicted visceral pain onscreen through the moving image and visual arts before, but none like this biopic of Vincent van Gogh, all done through his pain via his view of the world.
Silence and The Lord of the Rings come to mind when I think of labours of love within cinema, and Loving Vincent has joined the throng. This animated masterpiece took nearly ten years to make and it’s the first hand-painted on canvas feature film. This is what you call “hard graft” and it was crafted by over one hundred artists and included an estimated one hundred and thirty paintings with sixty-five thousand individual shots. And the finished product is trippy … in the best way, with the excellent performances from such talents like Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd), Aidan Turner / Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) and Douglas Booth (PPZ) to name a few.
Akin to seeing the places in van Gogh’s paintings in that episode of Doctor Who (Vincent and the Doctor), I enjoyed that here as well. Some are unchanged whilst others are added to. And then the paintings moved. No, this is not Harold and Alberta’s painting in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Narnia). However, the movement did have a psychedelic feel. The nostalgic aura of his paintings and their colours created a connection that I had never felt before, not even with any of the 1990s Disney flicks (my Golden Age). Using black and white for the flashbacks and colour for real time was a nice touch, giving a contrast between the calm, and the choppiness that followed his death.
Biopics aside, Loving Vincent is a detective story. Outsider goes to new surroundings where he doesn’t know anybody, and asks difficult questions. This detective genre trope is older than Holmes. The story picks up one year after Vincent’s suspicious death. Push comes to shove and as I mentioned earlier, Postman Joseph Roulin orders his son to hand-deliver a letter to Theo van Gogh. Donning the yellow blazer from his portrait, the bitter Armand Roulin goes to Paris. Little does he know that his quest is just beginning, a quest that leads him into playing detective on the death of Vincent van Gogh, or more so his life, as his life is really the only thing that matters.
“You want to know so much about his death but what do you know of his life?” says Marguerite Gachet (Saoirse Ronan). To my mind, it’s the strange and the odd that provoke change, the ones that dare to question and be different in a world that celebrates sameness. That’s why we have creatives and that’s why people like Vincent van Gogh should be celebrated, daring to innovate whilst the masses sit content with things they don’t like and it really showed “what this nobody had in his heart”.