The work of Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh is known the world over. Iconic paintings such as ‘The Starry Night’, ‘Bedroom in Arles,’ and ‘Sunflowers’ are images people from everywhere will find familiar. His work and style are considered foundations of modern art, yet what is known of the man behind the paintings?
Despite painting over eight hundred paintings in his own lifetime, he only ever sold one. He was plagued by mental illness, that reduced him to cutting off his own ear and living much of his life in poverty. Yet with these facts still not a lot is known about such an influential figure.
Loving Vincent, a new film by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, aims to take a more intimate look at the great artist. Set after his suicide, a young man tries to delivery his final letter and meets those who knew Vincent. As well as being a thoughtful and heartfelt tale the film is a wonder to behold visually, having filmed the actors then tasking artists to paint over the images, using Vincent’s signature style. The result is a not only a beautifully crafted film but a well told and moving account of a life ended too soon.
Set a year after Vincent’s suicide Armand Roulin, (Douglas Booth) is asked by his postman father, (Chris O’Dowd) to deliver Van Gogh’s final letter. As one of Vincent few friends and supporter of his memory he wants the letter to reach Vincent’s brother. Despite his initial reservations, Armand goes and begins a journey of discovery into who Vincent really was, as told by those around him before he died, including a local inn girl, (Eleanor Tomlinson) Vincent’s Doctor, (Jerome Flynn) the Doctor’s daughter, (Saoirse Ronan) and a local boatman, (Aidan Turner).
The film has been an incredible seven years in the making and features the work of one hundred and fifteen painters. The films sixty-five thousand frames are all oil on canvas works. Loving Vincent marks the first fully painted animation feature and the results are truly unique. The project first filmed the actors in sequence then allowed a team of artists to paint over them, using Van Gogh’s signature textured brush strokes alongside his more childlike interpretations for landscape and locations.
The narrative works as a journey of two kinds. One is watching Armand physically travel around France in search of the person to give Vincent’s letter to. The other is the emotional journey of learning about Vincent. It beautifully paints a picture of the different ways in which one man is viewed.
Simple this may be but do not let the stories simplicity fool you into thinking this is a style over substance project. The story accounts approach gives the viewers different perspectives of Vincent before his death. The sweet artistic man, the tortured soul and even the villain. The film also stands as a horrific account of how mental illness has been viewed in the past.
Visually the film has surpassed itself on craftsmanship. The painters recreated Vincent’s different oil paint styles and the animation flawlessly fuses them together, bringing the characters to life. The film has created a beautiful contrast in visuals depending on which part of the story is being told. Perhaps the most recognisable of styles is seen in the bulk of the story and Armand’s interaction with other players.
Characterised by textured brush strokes and colourful bursts. During the travelling sequences of the film it adopts a more interpretive style seen in Van Gogh’s landscape and cityscape works. Finally, when we hear accounts of Vincent from those Armand meets, the film takes on a more photographic, black and white imagery. All aspects help tell the story and create mood, atmosphere and beauty.
The film has a mixed cast led by Douglas Booth as Armand. Not only have the cast provided the voice for the characters but have been visuals muses for the painters. The results are heartfelt and passionate performances from all. It is also good to see Douglas Booth in a centre role, as someone who feels to be capable of so much more than his past roles.
A poignant, engrossing and incredibly crafted film. See this film for the visuals alone but the filmmakers have also pieced together a beautiful story of one of the word’s most renowned artists.
Loving Vincent plays as part of BFI London Film Festival
It is out in cinemas 13th October