For my second pick in this movie bonanza (being run at SlicetheLife), I take care of the “Historic/Biography” category with a visual stunner – 2017’s Loving Vincent.
Loving Vincent flew somewhat under the radar upon its release, rather like its subject did in his lifetime. It’s a look at the life and death of Vincent Van Gogh… but it’s also a whole lot more than that. Amazingly, we learn the great painted over 800 canvasses in his final eight years…but sold only one while alive.
The movie was the brainchild of Polish artist Doroto Kobiela, and is a collaborative project of Polish and British film companies. While interesting enough as a story, the thing that makes it memorable and outstanding was the method of making it. It is billed as the “first fully painted animated feature film.” Indeed, although using rotoscoping (which as I understand it is the method of using live action film and drawing over it for added realism), the movie is finished in the only way fitting a great painter. Its 95 minutes are comprised by 65 000 or more oil paintings! A staff of 125 professional painters created the movie by painting every scene in a style reminiscent of the great post-impressionist… so much so that we actually see some of his most famous works come to life – “”Wheat Field With Crows,” “Portrait of a Postman”, and of course “Starry Night.” The result is like a very high-end graphic novel come to life. To accentuate the story, the “present time” bits are in vibrant color while most of the flashback bits are told in a more photographic-looking B&W.
The story itself is essentially a bio of the last year or two of Van Gogh’s life. The artist was besides a painter, a prolific letter-writer. After his death, the local postmaster, a friend of his, finds a last letter Van Gogh had written to his brother, and he sends his son on a journey to deliver it in person. The son, Armand, (voiced by Douglas Booth), starts out grudgingly, thinking Vincent an insignificant crazy man… something mirrored unfortunately by the artist’s self-perception. “”What am I in the eyes of most people – a non-entity, an eccentric or an unpleasant person…in short the lowest of the low,” he’d written before adding “I should one day show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody has in his heart.”
Armand finds he can’t deliver it to Van Gogh’s brother Theo, but sets out to find a person who would care about it, meeting with those who knew him, loved him, even despised him along the way including the innkeeper where he’d spent his last months and the doctor who treated him. As the miles go by, the courier’s opinion of Van Gogh improves and in the end he not only finds himself an admirer but openly skeptical of the report that Van Gogh had commit suicide.
The film, which its producers described as “without a doubt, the slowest form of film-making ever devised in 120 years” had a budget of about $5.5 million, and made it back easily at the box office although it was far from a blockbuster. Critics tended to like it, with it winning the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival award for best movie and being nominated for the Best Animated Movie Academy Award (which it lost to Coco.) Rotten Tomatoes call it “a dazzling visual achievement” and the only real complaints about it anywhere were that the visuals outdid the story somewhat. Indeed, Loving Vincent might be a bit of “style over substance” but since it still told a compelling story and the style was so good, its an entirely forgiveable shortfall.
In short, Loving Vincent is what you wished Art History lessons were like in high school. Once you see it, you’ll never feel indifferent again when you hear Don McLean sing “Starry, starry night…”
I saw it recently on Hulu, although you can find it in hard copy too if you look around.
I give it 4 swirly stars out of 5.