By: Ellen Teague
Wow! I am so impressed with Loving Vincent. In this truly unique film tribute to Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, we see his paintings of wheat fields shimmer, his leaves flutter, his clouds move across the sky, and his 'Starry Night' twinkle. Characters he painted come alive in their contemporary surroundings and we meet the real people. The rich textures and colours dazzle in a very special film that is technically stunning. It must be seen on the big screen.
Loving Vincent took six years to make and is the world's first fully painted animated film. Each of the film's 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same technique as Van Gogh and created by a team of 115 painters. Around 130 of van Gogh's paintings form the film's backdrops, and it's an ever-morphing canvas that shimmers in front of the eyes. It is a work of love by writer-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, enhanced by the music of Clint Mansell.
The visuals are more significant for me than the meandering detective story. It is 1891, France, a year after van Gogh's death, and the son of the village postmaster, Armand Roulin, tries to deliver a letter written by Vincent to his brother, Theo. When Armand discovers that Theo is also dead, he interviews people whom Vincent painted and knew in Auvers-sur-Oise, the northern French town where he died. They recall a passionate, hard-working artist, and sometimes, but not always, the tormented, self-harming and suicidal genius. Van Gogh painted more than 80 paintings during the last 70 days of his life in the town – he was incredibly productive. But he was always an outsider who was bullied by local youth who played with guns. In fact, there is a suggestion that van Gogh was shot, possibly accidentally, by one of them but he claimed suicide rather than point a finger of blame during the two days he took to die of his wounds on 29 July 1890. Those who knew him – including his doctor, his doctor's daughter, his housekeeper's daughter, and a local boatman all provide conflicting accounts, creating a fractured portrait that never coheres into a clear picture.
I wouldn't say we learn much that is new about van Gogh's eccentric and troubled character but there are certainly insights into just how extraordinary he was. Amidst the presence of so many famous actors as Douglas Booth, Saoirse Roman, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aidan Turner, Chris O'Dowd, van Gogh himself is a more elusive presence, being played by a less well-known Polish actor, Robert Gulaczyk.
We find out that before turning to art at the age of 28, and inspired by his father who was a Dutch Reformed minister, he spent time as a missionary. "He managed to get sacked even from that!" says the film, obviously taking the view that it is easier to be a missionary than an artist! He studied theology and aspired to be a preacher, but his faith was of a more mystical nature and his lifestyle ascetic. In a mining region of rural Belgium he was a mediocre preacher, but his humanitarian missionary work with the sick and needy and his generous disposition endeared him to the impoverished parishioners. His compassion led him to rip up his own bedsheets for bandages and give away his meagre belongings. Rejection by the church hierarchy contributed to a nervous breakdown and he suffered poor mental health and intermittent periods in hospital up until his death at the age of 37.
In his nine years as an artist, producing 800 paintings, he sold only one. Yet, he was driven - described in the film as "a martyr for art", it was also a spiritual calling. In an 1888 letter, reflecting on the form of his "madness", van Gogh comments that "when in a state of excitement my feelings lead me...to the contemplation of eternity". They don't receive attention in the film, but van Gogh produced several significant Christian-themed paintings.
The wonder of the paintings that come to life in the gorgeous animation of Loving Vincent is that they draw appreciation to the vibrancy of all life, the humanity of ordinary people, and the glories of creation. Van Gogh painted not just what he saw but what he felt. Amidst his brokenness he appreciated simple things such as the sowing of seeds, the life in gardens, the stars twinkling at night, and the turning of sunflowers towards the sun, producing works of great beauty and inspiration. Often regarded in his lifetime as a down and out, his life struggle from darkness to light can inspire others who have lost their way in life. This is a truly creative film, life-affirming in its intensity, production and subject matter.
Well over one million people now visit the van Gogh museum in Amsterdam annually, appreciating the gifts of a man who was shunned and without many friends during his life.
Loving Vincent is now on general release.
Visit the Loving Vincent website: www.lovingvincent.com
See a trailer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=47h6pQ6StCk