Released at the Filmhouse cinema from Fri 27 Oct 2017
It’s rare that the aesthetic of a movie overrides its thematic content. Loving Vincent, the world’s first feature oil-painted film, is an exceptional case in point, with all 65,000 of its frames hand-painted by 125 artists over a six-year period. It’s a staggering feat and one that results in a dazzling, shimmering homage to the art of Van Gogh.
Thematically, the film concerns itself with the last days of Vincent’s life as it follows Armand Roulin, an erstwhile subject of Van Gogh’s portraits and errant son of the postmaster who befriended him. What begins as a mission to deliver the artist’s final correspondence before his death quickly becomes a detective-style delve into the past, eager to unearth the truth about his final days.
The action progresses at a stultified, unspontaneous pace, as Roulin visits one subject of Van Gogh’s painting after another. Each yields up a titbit of information or clue, which points our canary yellow protagonist in the direction of his next interrogee – the whole thing feels far more like a crime-solving computer game than a movie. This idea is reinforced by the fact that each character is pretty much exactly where Roulin left them last time and you can almost see the dialogue tree unfolding before you onscreen.
Nevertheless, the story is always playing second fiddle to the cinematography; while the clunkiness of the dialogue might rankle with some viewers, it’s really the paintings we’ve come to see. The painstaking effort which has gone into the film’s creation pays massive dividends, as each scene becomes a pulsating canvas, swirling with colour and energy. The smoke curling up from a cigarette, the pelt and peal of a torrential rainstorm, a hungry crow devouring a morsel of food; all of these become almost hypnotic when given the broad stroke brush treatment. It’s quite spectacular.
Those eager to learn much about the man’s life or peek inside his tortured mind may be disappointed, as the film does little beyond explore what is, at base, a conspiracy theory. Similarly, those who prioritise tight, believable dialogue and engaging story arcs might also come away feeling a little short-changed. But for anyone who appreciates the attempt of something new and has a passing interest in the art world, Loving Vincent is a magical labour of artistic love and a wonderful tribute to the man’s work.