Most film critics believe, in some form or another, that all film can be considered art. Maybe it’s good art or maybe it’s bad art, but it’s art nonetheless. However, never have we seen such a fitting embodiment of this idea than with Loving Vincent — a film that’s actually composed of nothing more than oil paintings.
Loving Vincent comes from relatively new directors and writers Dorota Kobiela (who’s also a painter) and her husband, Hugh Welchman.
The story is a biopic of sorts. Loving Vincent takes place after the death of Vincent Van Gogh, which occurred on July 29, 1980 in a small village in France. Instead of looking into the actual events that lead up to Van Gogh’s death (it was an apparent suicide), we follow a character, after the passing occurred, who had close ties to Van Gogh when he was alive.
The character’s name is Roulin (Douglas Booth). He, like most people living in Paris, didn’t hold the highest opinion of Van Gogh. Roulin’s father, Joseph (Chris O’Dowd), was Van Gogh’s personal postman and Roulin believes their family’s reputation suffered because of it. However, before his death, Van Gogh wrote one final letter to his brother Theo (the two were quite close) that Roulin has been assigned to deliver.
Roulin reluctantly agrees, hoping to get the matter done with as quickly as possible. But, after he learns Theo died shortly after Vincent and must then deliver the letter instead to his doctor — Doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn) — he finds that this job is going to take some time.
Along the way, Roulin asks people about Van Gogh and how he died. He gathers more and more information from different sources that Vincent was close to at the time, and begins to piece together the puzzle.
The only problem is that something doesn’t add up. Some element is missing in the account of Van Gogh’s death and Roulin, suddenly invested, now intends to find out what it is. He continues talking to people, hearing several different accounts of the life that Van Gogh lived (all told brilliantly through flashback form) and finds himself gaining a new respect for the artist he once misjudged.
Loving Vincent is the first fully painted animation feature — clocking in at 1 hour and 34 minutes. The actors were first filmed against a green screen or on sets built to look like paintings. The footage, then, was used by the artist as a tool of reference as they painted over it with oil colorant. By the end of it, over 100 professional artist had lend their hand to help create 62,450 total shots, according to the New York Times.
The result is nothing short of breathtaking. Loving Vincent is astonishing to look at, from start to finish. All of the shots are painted in a way that’s meant to mimic Van Gogh’s style, meaning the film itself, more or less, takes place inside the infamous Starry Night painting. Matching the landscapes, colors and use of shadows with character movement in such a style is a bold, daunting challenge, but the film is able to pull it off to great effect.
The main criticism that people seem to have with Loving Vincent, then, is that the film is all style over substance — that they create a beautiful looking film without actually having a story to follow it up. I disagree. Loving Vincent tells an unconventional biopic that brings to light not only the type of person who Vincent Van Gogh was, but also that of Roulin.
Roulin is as much of a troubled character as anyone else in the film. In the beginning, we see him drunk and getting into fights. He doesn’t like Van Gogh. He has no interest in the mission he’s being sent on. Yet, through the movie, he gathers bits of information that helps him — and the audience — learn and appreciate what kind of life the artist lives. We see him change, and then go forward as he processes what to do with all this information. The result is a mutual respect for Van Gogh in both Roulin and the audience. The movie cleverly attaches allegiance to both characters, despite their differences.
And the film itself can be informative, without ever stretching into boring biopic territory. Everyone that Roulin talks to has a different story about Van Gogh. Some loved and admired him, others (most) thought he was throwing his life away. Through it all, Van Gogh was a troubled man (I’m sure you’ve heard the story about his ear) and never tried to attract this kind of negativity — he just wanted to paint.
Loving Vincent finds the perfect way to honor the artist who tragically died all too soon. It’s an incredibly gorgeous looking film, with a heartfelt and moving story to back it up. While the dialogue itself can occasionally be a bit too on the nose, there’s so much to love in Loving Vincent that you’re likely not going to care. Bring the tissues for this one — the ending might leave you in tears.
Watch the trailer for Loving Vincent here, be sure to check it out if it's playing in a theater anywhere near you and, if you do see it, let us know what you thought of the movie in the comments below.
Art comes alive: 'Loving Vincent' review10