Movie review: Poetic paintings come to life in 'Loving Vincent'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Nov 08 2017 12:38 AM

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Every frame of the animated film "Loving Vincent" about the great artist Vincent van Gogh was an oil painting in his distinctive style that comes to vivid life. Seeing the beautiful trailer of this film alone gives enough reason to go watch this film on the big screen. 

Van Gogh, touted as the "Father of Modern Art," died violently at the young age of 37. This film deals with that mentally disturbed, turbulent part of his life. It was at his death that his artistic genius was launched into legendary status.

It has been a year after the death of van Gogh. The Postmaster Roulin requests his son Armand to personally hand-carry a letter sent by van Gogh before his death to his brother Theo because the mail system could not deliver it. During this trip, Armand interacts with the people whom Vincent himself interacted in his last six months before his death. 

In Auvers-sur-Oise, Armand gets to interview the paint supplier Pere Tanguy (John Sessions), the friendly innkeeper's daughter Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), the boatman (Aidan Turner) along the river, and his kindred spirit Dr. Paul Gachet (Jerome Flynn), his lovely daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan) and their spiteful housekeeper Louise Chevalier. From their stories told from divergent perspectives, Armand puts the pieces of the puzzle together when he finally reports back to his father.

Even if this film was largely all talk (which may turn off some viewers), the story never became boring for me. I had always thought that his suicide was an uncontested fact, so I am not really sure how much of this tale was fact and fiction. I doubt if the characters in the film (real people who became subjects of various van Gogh paintings) encountered each other in real life that way. But for me, the tale of mystery of van Gogh's fatal wound, along with significant details of his tormented life, were masterfully woven by co-writers-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman into a cohesive and engaging tapestry.

From the hand-lettered opening credits to the creatively informative closing credits, I sat mesmerized for an hour and a half by this beautifully and delicately crafted film whose painstakingly detailed oil paintings in van Gogh style is unprecedented. The images we see on the screen (people, rainfall, fire, smoke, depth, etc) were never static, the brushstrokes in each frame were constantly moving, giving a unique dynamism I've never seen before. This sense of shimmering motion may cause some difficulty for some people to watch, but for me it was absolutely magical -- a true wonder of cinematic art. 

As you recognize each familiar painting come to life, you will feel a thrill. You may not know the names of these paintings but you definitely have seen them or part of them before. The film ends with the camera panning upwards to show his most famous painting "The Starry Night," which in itself was enough for me to burst into applause. 

Then as an additional final bonus, it sends us off with a sense of aching nostalgia by giving us an exquisite version of Don McLean's "Vincent" by Lianne La Havas over the closing credits. Beauty truly permeated this visually (and musically) poetic film from beginning to end. 9/10 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."