Loving Vincent




A regular critique of many biopics of famous artists, is that the lion’s share of the story focuses primarily on the person and their life with only minimal exposure to their art. Well if you fall into that category of unsatisfied viewers, LOVING VINCENT is an extraordinary and unique documentary on the final weeks of the life of Vincent van Gogh by writer / directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman.  Why unique?  It is the world’s first oil-painted feature film.


The conception and execution of the aesthetic of this work is remarkable.  First the live action scenes using the actors were shot against standard sets and green screens.  The individual frames (65,000 of them) were then painted over in van Gogh style oils by 125 professional artists recruited from all over the world.  Using advanced digital technology, the painted frames were then photographed and assembled into a linear time sequence to become a film that tells its story from within van Gogh’s paintings, and using many of the characters featured in them.  In all, 94 van Gogh’s are fully replicated in the film with an additional partial utilization of a further 31 works.  The incredibly painstaking and detailed task is truly impressive.  The 125 artists attended a three day trial held in Poland, followed by three weeks intensive training to allow each artist to move away from their own style to become van Gogh copyists.  Once trained up and ready, they worked six days a week for 10 hours per day.  In all, the stretch from conception to completion took seven years!  This is a genuine labor of love.


The story is told from the viewpoint of Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a young man from Arles who, a year after van Gogh’s death, is tasked by his postmaster father to deliver the artist’s last letter to his beloved younger brother, Theo.  (Armand and his wiry-bearded father were the subjects of some of van Gogh’s paintings and Armand features the canary-yellow jacket so famously portrayed in those works.)  Initially, Armand knows very little about van Gogh, but by the end of his investigative quest has learned that Theo is dead, that a cloud hangs over van Gogh’s demise (was it actually suicide?) and he also gains an appreciation for the sheer genius of the painter.  Previously unknown aspects are now clear to Armand such as the reason why he is often classed as ‘the father of modern Art’ and the degree of inner turmoil and depressive bouts that underpinned over 900 oil paintings, most created in the last decade of his short 37 year old life.


Commencing in Paris and visiting many locations where van Gogh painted, the tale becomes a form of ‘whodunnit’.  A possible murder mystery as opposed to a suicide as Armand arrives in Auvers-sur-Oise and questions those who knew the artist during the last six weeks of his life.  Wildly varying opinions of the man are forthcoming.  An innkeeper’s daughter (Eleanor Tomlinson) is filled with praise, while the housekeeper (Helen McCrory) to Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn) who ministered to van Gogh in his final weeks, holds a radically different opinion.  “He was evil” she says.  Saorise Ronan plays the doctor’s daughter Marguerite who may have been romantically linked to van Gogh. The postmaster pities the tortured genius while a devout churchgoer becomes enraged that someone would shoot themselves on a Sunday. 


There will be cries of style over substance no doubt, but I personally found this almost hypnotic as a viewing experience and learned a lot about van Gogh’s oeuvre.


Have you ever wandered through some of the world’s great art galleries and gazed at a masterpiece wishing it could come to life?  LOVING VINCENT does just that.




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