Film Review: Loving Vincent

This lavish production from Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman was created using oil paintings for each of the 65000 frames, and the effect is at times absolutely dazzling, even if, at first, your eyes might struggle to take it all in.

Advertised as “the first fully painted animated feature film”, the UK/Polish biographical drama Loving Vincent was funded by the Polish Film Institute, a Kickstarter campaign and other sources. Technically, it draws similarities to, but distinguishes itself from Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures Of Tintin (computer-animated real actors) or Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly (live action filmed and then rotoscope-animated).

How factually correct it is could also be an issue, and yet, nevertheless, we watch as the somewhat aimless Armand (Douglas Booth) strikes the first of many character poses that deliberately recall key works by Vincent van Gogh, who has been dead for a year here (making this 1891). He’s approached by his postman Dad Joseph (Chris O’Dowd, whose Irish accent is a bit out of place) and tasked with delivering Vincent’s last letter to his brother Theo, a figure usually kept mostly out of film studies of van Gogh (except Robert Altman’s Vincent & Theo).

There’s a flicker of distaste on Joseph’s part as he recalls Vincent’s notorious ear mutilation, which still unfortunately is the one thing about van Gogh non-experts remember in trivia contests. Then Armand visits Père Tanguy (John Sessions) and is advised to seek out Dr. Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise, who might (or might not) be able to shed light on what happened during Vincent’s final days.

As his quest turns into an investigation into the apparent truth behind Vincent death (or was it murder?), Armand meets several people linked to Vincent, including: Adeline Ravoux (Elenaor Tomlinson), who was present the day he died; a local boatman (Aidan Turner), in sequences featuring some lovely water animation; and Marguertie Gachet, who’s played by Saoirse Ronan. Marguerite also sometimes appears against a background of van Gogh-ian fields, and in a minor late-on glitch, her body is seen to walk, although her head remains weirdly and off-puttingly rigid.

Doctor Mazery (Bill Thomas) is also an important contact for Armand. After he’s introduced in an odd, cringing-like pose straight out of a van Gogh portrait, he starts offering medical and psychological opinions into what happened to Vincent, and why, no matter how suspicious the circumstances seem to be, chances are we will never really know what transpired. This is another surprising development in what is intended in a biopic-of-sorts that you’d hope would offer real answers, as we learn that mental illness isn’t glamourous (despite all those irksome ‘tortured genius’ clichés) and that, in the end, Vincent couldn’t be helped.

Rated M. Loving Vincent is in cinemas now.

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