“I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say, ‘he feels deeply, he feels tenderly.’” – Vincent Van Gogh
Before the film even begins, the opening credits announce the painters that truly brought this story to life. One hundred and twenty five painters painted over 60,000 stunning paintings in order to make this dream an animated reality. It took over one hundred artists to portray the complicated story of just one, that of Vincent Van Gogh. The events of Loving Vincent take place one year after Van Gogh’s death. We are in Arles and it is 1891, a brilliantly bright yellow blazer immediately draws our attention. It belongs to Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), it is Armand the audience follows as he embarks on a journey to deliver a letter from the late Vincent (Robert Gulaczyk) to his brother Theo. This letter comes to him from his father Postman Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), a friend of the late painter. On Armand’s journey to find Theo, he begins to discover and uncover details of Van Gogh’s tumultuous life and tragic death.
Loving Vincent’s story becomes a kind of mystery to be solved, one that gets more curious the closer we get to the end. However, the story is secondary to the imagery, which for me was the main focus of the film. In the opening scene we are presented with a lushly coloured country landscape, a gentle wind rustles through long grass, we are gazing down from an aerial view and slowly descending. These movements are not made with air or gravity however, but with the alternating thick and thin brushstrokes of a skilled hand. Even at this early point in the film my breath had been taken away and I stared at the screen open mouthed. There has simply never been a film like this before and I don’t believe we will ever see the like of this again. It can only be described as a lengthy labour of love borne from the minds of director Dorota Kobiela and producer Hugh Welchman who have spent the best part of a decade bringing this idea to life. With the introduction of each character the rotoscoping technique of oil painted images over live action becomes even more remarkable and beautiful to watch. The various acquaintances we make on Armand’s journey are modelled from Van Gogh’s paintings. Eleanor Tomlinson as innkeeper Adeline Ravoux was particularly delightful to watch and listen to as she recounted her time with Van Gogh. Tomlinson was warm and welcoming and brought a once still image to vivid life. Saoirse Ronan on the other hand, came off as stiff and prickly in her portrayal of Dr. Gachet’s daughter Marguerite. Ronan seemed indifferent and lacked the spirit needed to bring life to the character. However that is in no fault due to the painters and should not be dwelt upon for too long. While the painted mouths don’t always perfectly match the speech of the actors, it is the daubs of dancing paint and swooping colour that really sing the life of these characters.
In contrast to the vibrating colour, we are also treated to black and white sequences that signify flashbacks in the story back to Vincent’s early life and forward to his final hours. These sequences, although equally captivating to watch, are altogether more downcast. They tell of deeply traumatic events of Van Gogh’s childhood and recall the heartbroken visitors to his bedside shortly before his death. While the opening scene lifted my heart, I was brought to tears watching Theo holding his brother’s hand in a darkened room and bowing his head as his dear brother passed away. This scene was mostly coloured in black, but even in those glimpses of white and shades of grey that highlighted the brother’s faces, life, love and loss is deeply felt and experienced.
Van Gogh himself painted 800 pictures in his lifetime and many of the talented painters came very close to that in the making of Loving Vincent. I was very lucky to have spent some time at one particular production studio while the film was being made and can attest to the dedication and exceptional talent of so many of the painters involved. Watching them work was similar to Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn) observing and guiding Van Gogh during the film, they are great artists to be admired and celebrated. I have already read some reviews that too quickly pass off their work as ‘imitation’ or ‘pastiche’ but this is to foolishly ignore the discipline and diligent nature of their work. What they achieved is far more than a production line of identical images. Having visited various artists studios throughout the vast work-space it was clear to me that each painter had their own voice, their own style and their own unique perspective in their work, what came from all of this individual creativity is a beautiful union of equally inspired images. These are not paintings that should sit or stand still, they need to move, to love and live, in Loving Vincent we are lovingly treated to their wonderful dance.
Loving Vincent is on general release from Friday 13th October