Rating3.5 / 5
Vincent van Gogh’s immortal legacy is revived in this visually stunning painted film, but his tumultuous soul is still left in the dark.
Loving Vincent is a spectacular triumph of animation technique and an earnest if somewhat lifeless effort at drama. We are told in opening text that each frame was lovingly hand-painted by over a hundred dedicated artists, and the final result is utterly stunning in its beauty. This is really one of the finest looking animated films I have seen. If only the same tireless conviction was applied to the screenplay.
The method of the plot is not unlike that of Immortal Beloved (1994), in which Gary Oldman played Ludwig van Beethoven as a genius bordering dangerously on insanity. His story was told through the eyes of his friend Schindler, who tried to learn more about the maestro through letters and questioning those who really knew him. Loving Vincent, too, has a letter and lots of questions, asked by Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a pleasant young chap who intends to uncover why Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk), a man seemingly content, would shoot himself in a field.
The film, however, lacks the presence and impact of an Oldman-like figure at the centre to propel an otherwise humdrum investigatory procedural with purpose. All the people Armand interviews are like characters from Cluedo, restricted to wary glances and dialogue programmed to paint an untrustworthy portrait of the troubled artist (pun intended). Was van Gogh mad or a genius? Did he deserve to die? How big a part did his brother Theo play? The point I guess is to not find out; that a man whose gift was to create movement and colour on canvas unlike any other before him should not be disassembled like a computer motherboard but appreciated for his richness.
So stories criss-cross and fade into each other, and soon Armand has before him a jigsaw puzzle of a man everybody seemed to know but nobody truly understood. Okay, but to what end? The film is written by Jacek Dehnel and directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, and they do a fine job of making van Gogh a rather mysterious figure, shrouded in the fumes of his oils. But their screenplay just coasts from interview to interview, never stopping long enough to ponder the seriousness of the questions asked. Meetings don’t carry much importance. Armand is sweet but is too easily swept along for the ride. After it all, we don’t come away with much more than when we started.
But this could all be part of a much larger plot by the filmmakers to narrow our attention to the animation, which, in all seriousness, is majestic enough to keep it all afloat. The swirling strokes and vivid colours are almost hypnotic, which isn’t helpful when you have a plot that works like a sedative. But, my word, what a treat this movie is for the eyes. I reckon it could be screened in one of those dark rooms at the art museum with no sound and still move admirers to tears.
Many people will walk out of Loving Vincent with their own questions about van Gogh’s life, which is all well and good. I walked out wondering how many tons of paint was used and why none of the artists who sweated over this film are world famous, because you could extract any frame, put it up on your wall and have yourself a masterpiece. It’s that good.
Loving Vincent is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.
Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment