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Theme Tuesday - Vincent Van Gogh - Loving Vincent (2017)

In honor of his birthday on March 30th, I will be devoting March to exploring portrayals of the artist Vincent Van Gogh on film.


If Loving Vincent hadn’t been about Vincent Van Gogh, it would still be no less of a grand technical accomplishment. Each of the 65,000 frames is an actual oil painting painted by 125 professional painters in Van Gogh’s distinctive style. The actors were shot against a green screen, using rotoscoping technology and then their performances were painted over by these artists. It took four years to complete this movie, and its nomination for best animated feature at the 2018 Academy Awards was richly deserved.

Clearly, the filmmakers Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman were passionate about their project and their dedication is to be commended. That’s why I feel bad to be down on this movie ultimately. The movie seeks to take a Citizen Kane approach to discovering Van Gogh. Armand, the son of the postmaster in the town where Van Gogh died is tasked to deliver Vincent’s last letter to Theo to someone who is willing to receive it. Because Theo died shortly after Vincent did, Armand’s journey is a circuitous one as he tries to find someone who will ultimately receive the letter.

The story should work in theory, but it ends up slowing the movie down and drawing an ultimately pretty miserable portrait of a lonely man, as few of the people whom Armand encounters have little positive to say about him (predictably). That would have been an OK approach to this film, but it’s also a very conventional one. Ironically, this movie drawn in Van Gogh’s style has little of the intense longing and insight into the psyche that Van Gogh’s works often had, even when he was painting relatively mundane scenes. The animation style is almost completely incidental to the actual story itself in that it serves little dramatic purpose, and it ultimately is just a trick. A very impressive one but just a trick nevertheless. Honestly, Kobiela’s original seven-minute short probably had just as much dramatic impact as this film did. Perhaps, this movie will work for someone’s first movie about Vincent Van Gogh, but for someone who has become very familiar with the story as I have, it doesn’t hit the sweet spot.

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