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Vincent Van Gogh - At Eternity's Gate (2018) & The Sunflowers!

It’s Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday! I’ve been celebrating by watching and reviewing movies featuring the artist’s life. I conclude with the latest incarnation, At Eternity’s Gate, directed by Julian Schnabel and starring Willem Dafoe as the artist, and I hand out rewards determined by a committee of one.

Julian Schnabel seems to like making films about artists who face extraordinary circumstances. Before Night Falls is about Reinaldo Arenas who was imprisoned, and Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s protagonist is completely paralyzed except for his eyeballs. Van Gogh is the granddaddy of them all with his famously troubled existence. Indeed, Schnabel seems much more interested in exploring the psyche of the man rather than his artistic process. His paintings don’t even feature that much in the narrative, but rather on how is ridiculed by the people around him, including school children. His paintings are often framed as his awkward way of connecting with people such as a young servant woman whom he asks awkwardly to lie on the ground so he can paint her. It’s not really a stretch to call this an emo version of Van Gogh and even his death is meant to portray as a martyr and a victim of his mental illness. It’s probably the most sympathetic portrayal I have seen so far of him, but it adds little to the appreciation of his genius that the other films I have seen do to one extent or another.

And now for the awards for this little series, which could only be called the Sunflowers.

The Sunflower for the Best Van Gogh goes to

Tim Roth

I feel that Van Gogh would have probably looked a lot like Roth’s gruff, difficult, temperamental bum that everyone clearly would have seen him as. There’s little sentimentality in his performance, because artists tend to be passionate people who can’t figure out why other people don’t agree absolutely with them. There is also a pained awareness in Roth’s performance as he realizes how much of a burden he is to Theo and all the people who have been at least somewhat kind to him.

The Sunflower for Best Supporting Performance goes to

Paul Rhys as Theo

I give this to Rhys mainly because his Theo is the best developed out of all representations of him I have seen. It would be tempting to give it to an actor who played Gauguin, who was definitely more entertaining to watch, but Rhys’ Theo is just as convicted as his brother Vincent is, except that he doesn’t paint. He fulminates against the bourgeois gallery owners and the potential buyers, and his dedication to his brother borders on irrationality, making him more like Vincent than one might think.

The Sunflower for Most Visually Stunning Film goes to

Loving Vincent

It very much lacks in story or originality, but the technical accomplishment of this feature, which is literally made up of paintings and rotoscoping rather than CGI is just too big to ignore.

The Sunflower for Best Overall Feature goes to

Dreams

It might be cheating a little since the Van Gogh segment may actually be the weakest segment in Kurosawa’s truly beautiful and evocative anthology film, but everyone needs to see just how great a master Kurosawa was, even late in his life.

The Sunflower for Best Van Gogh Movie goes to

Vincent & Theo

It’s the least sentimental and the most expansive (at four hours long), and it raises real questions about the subjective value of art and whether such dedication to artistry is really worth alienating family and friends and ruining one’s mental and physical health. I’m not sure if the film comes down on one side or the other, but just the fact it raises such a question is commendable.

 

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