Cinema: ‘Loving Vincent’

‘Loving Vincent’ is a new animated film about the life and death of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh.

I watched it last night at the Irish Film Institute.

When I say this that this is an animated film, I am not telling the full story. It is in fact the first fully painted animation film. Each of the 65,000 frames used in the ninety mimute tale is a Van Gogh style oil painting on canvas. It took the talents of 115 painters/animators to create the film.

 It is a Polish/British co-production and was written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman.

 It tells the tale of the life and mysterious death of Van Gogh, in Auvers-sur-Oise in France, through the eyes of the animated characters who feature in his most famous paintings.

 Postman Roulin (Chris O’Dowd) asks his son Armand (Douglas Booth) to deliver Vincent’s last letter to his allegedly syphilitic brother Theo. Having discovered that Theo died a mere six months after Vincent, Armand travels to Auvers, to try to piece together the fragments of Vincent’s last days before his apparent suicide by shotgun.


 He meets Vincent’s old land lady Adeline Ravoux who has only ill to speak of Vincent’s doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn of ‘Robson and’ fame) – with whom Vincent lived on his release from a mental asylum, and in whose house he ultimately died. Ravoux claims that Vincent was happy in the weeks before his death, and that cutting his ear off to give to a prostitute and his subsequent death was as a result of Gachet’s influence.

 He meet’s Gachet’s interfering housekeeper and beautiful daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan) who tell conflicting stories of Vincent’s last days.

 Finally he confronts Gachet.

The film is stunningly beautiful to look at. Set in both colour, and in black and white – the colour segments concern Armand and his quest for information in the village. The black and white segments are set in the past and recount the characters’ recollections of Vincent.

The people in the film are based on individuals from Van Gogh’s paintings. Real life actors are used as the painted models. Therefore the animated oil painting of Marguerite is in fact, an animated painting of Saoirse Ronan.

 This unique style is very effective in portraying the sadness and tragedy of Vincent’s life – his unalterable status as an outsider; his yearning to belong to a society – any society; his vulnerability due to his otherworldly naivete; his sense of responsibility and failure towards his brother who has so unfailingly supported him with zero reward (during his own lifetime the father of modern art sold only a single, solitary painting). And his genius.

 It was fairly heart-breaking. There must have been onions in the cinema as there were tears in my eyes as I left the auditorium.

 This film is one of those rare arthouse films – it’s actually about art. Plus it is as beautiful as it is moving. Highly recommended.


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