Released on September 22, 2017, Loving Vincent is an independent film that has taken both the film and fine art industries by storm. It is the world’s first film composed entirely of painted animation. Though the final product is stunning, in every pioneering title there is room for error.
While the movie is made solely of paintings, it is easy to tell in most scenes that it was first filmed, and then the film stills were painted. The effect is fascinating, but it sometimes clashes with the setting.
In an animated movie, you normally expect the characters to appear cartoonish, as their appearance is based on the imaginations of the animator or concept designer. In Loving Vincent, each character’s appearance is based off real paintings by Van Gogh, yet, through the image, you can clearly recognize the likeness of actors such as Douglas Booth, Chris O’Dowd, and Saoirse Ronan. There are even instances where the actors’ characters appear in much clearer detail, and have a larger range of motion than the surrounding individuals.
Likewise, many of the locations in the movie are straight out of Van Gogh’s paintings, and are still displayed in their original perspective. Perspective in abstract expressionism is understandably warped. We have already established that the movie was based off filmed footage, hence, as the movie progresses, we are constantly switching between a warped perspective, and a proper one. Switching constantly from one perspective to another destroys the immersive effect, and while it is a reminder of the effort and creativity put into the film’s development, it is distracting.
Also, the production was executed by a team of over 100 painters, who painted 65,000 frames in oil on canvas. However, every painter has their own style and brushstroke, and while most times the styles seamlessly blend together, sometimes the change is so stark and sudden that it also becomes a distraction. Despite some minor difficulties, both the scenes with character capture and wide establishing shots are fascinatingly beautiful, and utterly breathtaking.
The story is set a year after the death of Van Gogh. It follows Armand Roulin, a reluctant man sent on a quest by his father Joseph, the local postmaster and a friend of Vincent’s. His mission is to bring the last letter Vincent wrote before he died to his brother Theo, and also to investigate the cause of death.
Armand is sent to the village of Auvers-sur-Oise to try and track down the answers he needs. Initially, it had been Armand’s father who needed to know why Vincent had died, but as he continues his journey, Armand understands Vincent more and more, begins to sympathize, and feels the need to discover the truth for himself.
Armand’s curiosity-filled journey effectively makes the movie as much of a murder mystery as it is a historical documentary of Van Gogh’s life and career as a painter. Several theories as to when, where, and why Vincent shot himself circulate throughout the village, as he was an unpredictable man suffering from all sorts of mental health challenges and emotional turmoil. At one point, the town boatman notes the small things in Vincent’s life that brought him joy. He recalls a day when he observed a crow stealing from Vincent’s lunch as the artist painted from a boat on the river. Vincent had stared at the creature with fascination and admiration in his eyes. The boatman then says, “How lonely is the guy that even a thieving crow brightens up his day?”
Van Gogh’s life was filled with failure and depression, but also passion and talent. His love for painting only started when he first picked up a brush at the age of 28. From that point, he became an influential artist in only eight years. He lived well, and then died unexpectedly. The large question in this movie is “why?” Why did Vincent choose to kill himself? Why did he live the way he did? The film does not give us all the answers, but provides enough for a satisfying ending and experience.
It is refreshing to see such a monumental film directed by a woman in such a male-dominated industry. According to the film’s official website, director Dorota Kobiela had previously been a painter before working on Loving Vincent, making her particularly qualified to undertake a project melding both of the mediums together. To be both a film director and an art director at the same time requires that an individual be rich in both skill and experience.
The movie ends with a few words of fact and sentiment: “In the eight years between starting to paint and his death, Vincent painted over 800 paintings, only one of which was sold in his lifetime. He was posthumously proclaimed the father of modern art.”
Loving Vincent is not currently available for streaming or purchase, but is instead being shown at various film festivals worldwide. Though the screening at the Vancouver Film Festival has passed, you can catch it at the Pickford Film Centre in Bellingham on November 10.