Film Review: Loving Vincent (UK, 2017) is an ambitious work of art

The Beatles sang “All you need is love” but they weren’t talking about movies. The film, Loving Vincent is one that is positively brimming with love. It was a labour, a passion project and it’s one of its kind that reads like a love letter to its namesake. But while the final result is something that is visually perfect and unparalleled, it’s a shame that the storyline is one that is so prosaic it’s practically paint-by-numbers.

This film is directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman and it is captured in rotoscope. This means that the film was originally shot and then subsequently animated by 100 artists painting some 65,000 oil paintings. The artists do an amazing job and most things aren’t fit to hold a candle to their works. The black and white scenes showing story flashbacks are so realistic they look like actual photographs. The coloured shots from the present meanwhile, capture the Dutch master’s iconic post-impressionistic style. The audience gets so immersed in these sumptuous visuals that you can easily forget that these images were once static, two dimensional blank canvases. Amazing stuff.

The story however, is where this film is let down. Douglas Booth plays Armand Roulin the son of a Postman (Chris O’Dowd). The elder gives his boy the job of delivering the last letter Van Gogh penned. The master artist was a prolific writer to his brother, Theo. Roulin figured he could give the letter to Theo but he too had passed away shortly after Vincent’s own death by a gunshot wound to the stomach.

Roulin becomes quite inquisitive about Vincent (Robert Gulaczyk) and decides to investigate the artist’s death. He travels to Auvers-sur-Oise in France and asks various townsfolk about Van Gogh. Their thoughts are mixed from the innkeeper’s daughter (Eleanor Tomlinson) marvelling at Van Gogh’s strong work ethic to the Doctor’s housekeeper (Helen McCrory) declaring Vincent evil. Van Gogh was under the care of Doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn) but this didn’t stop his being infatuated by the Doctor’s daughter (Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)). Vincent was also tormented by some young thugs and he was grappling with his own inner demons (most people know Van Gogh as the artist that sliced off his own ear.)

This film is episodic and like a mystery, as Roulin meets different individuals and pieces together their recollections of Vincent. There is some speculation and questions about his death because while it was ruled as a suicide, there were others who believed it was a murder. The fact is that there are a lot of unanswered questions about this artist’s death. But there is no disputing his legacy and influence on modern art.

This film will be fun for art aficionados to watch because they will be able to identify all of the “Easter eggs” AKA spot the Van Gogh paintings that are recreated here. A lot of Van Gogh’s works inspired the actual look of various characters and some of his landscapes inform the backgrounds too. The image of the starry night is particularly memorable, especially when you consider that this is accompanied by a lovely cover of Don McLean’s “Vincent” at the end. This is like a marriage made in heaven.

Loving Vincent is an ambitious and simply gorgeous film. It is one that should be commended for its inventiveness (it’s the first of its kind) and for capturing some of the spirit of its genius subject. The form is absolutely mesmerising but the same cannot be said about the script that is a little too meandering and slow. This is such a pity because this creative and artistic bio-pic is a labour of love in every sense of the word.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Loving Vincent is in limited release from Thursday, 2nd November.