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Is Loving Vincent The Movie Worth Seeing?

  • loving vincent film still
June 17, 2017
A philosophy graduate interested in critical theory, politics and art. Alias of Jelena Martinović.

The life of no other artist has been surrounded by more legends as the life of Vincent van Gogh. An artist with an inimitable visual language, van Gogh was also a rather intriguing person whose life and death remain under the veil of mystery. While painting some of the most celebrated and influential art of all time, the artist was at the same time combating anguishing mental illness characterized by frequent episodes of depression and paralyzing anxiety – an illness that would eventually claim his life. Even though the real Vincent is somewhat revealed through the honest account of his psychoemotional turmoil expressed in the letters to his brother Theo, the details about his death remain perplexing. Loving Vincent, the long-anticipated fully-painted van Gogh biopic that premiered this week, attempted to tell this story through original van Gogh paintings.

Loving Vincent Movie Poster
Loving Vincent Movie Poster

Loving Vincent – The Movie

Previously announced as the masterpiece that will make cinematic history, Loving Vincent is the first fully painted feature film comprised of 65,000 frames that are the result of six years of creative development, the work of 115 painters that tried to recreate van Gogh’s aesthetic approach and over 1,345 discarded paintings. As the makers of the film explain “Vincent wrote: ‘We cannot speak other than by our paintings’. We take him at his word and let the paintings tell the real story of Vincent Van Gogh.” The plot itself relies on the stories told through his celebrated paintings and the characters that appear in them. The film is cast as a murder mystery in which a young man tries to reconstruct the events which led to van Gogh’s mental illness and eventually to his alleged suicide through testimonies of imaginary characters.

The making of
Loving Vincent, the Making Of

Van Gogh Goes to Hollywood

When premiered at France’s Annecy Festival this week, the film received a 10-minute-plus standing ovation which lasted throughout the final credit sequence and beyond. The painstaking work done by directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman to turn some of the artist’s most prized canvases into animated scenes can be impressive to behold, yet the narrative of the film itself and the means employed could be debated.

Employing many of the tools of a standard TV thriller, from flashback to reenactments to scenes viewed from van Gogh’s troubled point of view, and having Armand Roulin serving as both detective and narrator, the film keeps the suspense afloat. Yet, this plot device also makes it rather stagey, turning the allusive artist into the protagonist of a garden-variety crime novel. Adding to it the number of fictionalized accounts of the artist, his made-up memories and the invented love interest, the film ends up being misleading and corny. Instead of revealing the man behind the myths, the film provides us with yet another pop version of the acclaimed artist. Additionally, the attempt to recreate Van Gogh’s aesthetic by animating his original works with oil paintings that poorly imitate his painting technique banalizes his artistic struggle and reduces it to “the simplistic van Gogh style”.

Loving Vincent, the Official Trailer

To See or Not to See?

The film Loving Vincent is hardly the first attempt to depict the life and death of this tormented artist. So, is it worth seeing? Well, depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for a suspenseful crime story, then the movie can be an interesting thing to watch. If you are an art history purist, and you are hoping to discover the real van Gogh and attempt to understand his artistic and psychoemotional struggles than the movie Loving Vincent will definitely not be your cup of tea.

Featured image: Loving Vincent, a Still. All images used for illustrative purposes only.