Loving Vincent

Movie Information

The Story: A young man tries to deliver a letter from the late Vincent van Gogh and uncovers mysterious circumstances surrounding his alleged suicide in the process. The Lowdown: A remarkable and utterly unique approach to van Gogh and his art that fully immerses the audience and does its subject justice in a way that few films have.
Genre: Animated Biopicc
Director: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman
Starring: Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk, Helen McCrory, Chris O’Dowd, Saoirse Ronan
Rated: PG-13

Night CafÇ, Arles Lt Milliet (Robin Hodges) and Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth)

The very fact that a film like Loving Vincent exists is a noteworthy achievement in and of itself. Composed entirely of oil paintings in the style of van Gogh stitched together to animate its story, the international co-production took 125 artists seven years to complete — and that’s on top of the fact that a live-action film was shot first for reference material. What’s perhaps more impressive is that the film transcends its gimmick to tell a compelling story that would be worth watching even if its remarkable visual accomplishments didn’t justify its existence on their own (which they absolutely do).

Arles CafÇ Terrace at Night

On the basis of the title, one could be excused for expecting a piece of melodramatic hero worship along the lines of Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 biopic Lust for Life — but co-writers-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman take an altogether different approach. There are no overblown scenes of Kirk Douglas amputating his ear or penning an anguished suicide note to be found in Loving Vincent. Instead, the narrative takes the form of something like a detective story, with an investigation of the Dutch artist’s final days sparked by an undelivered letter to his brother Theo.

Postman Roulin (Chris O'Dowd)

The title itself is taken from van Gogh’s signature on that letter, and the film follows the efforts of a shiftless young man named Armand (Douglas Booth) to deliver it at the behest of his father, Arles postmaster Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd). Both men were painted by van Gogh, as were many of the people Armand encounters during his quest to find an appropriate recipient for the correspondence once he discovers that Theo died shortly after Vincent. Structurally, the narrative boils down to interviews with the characters that populated the artist’s final days in the northern French village of Auvers.

Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) arriving in Auvers by train

Everything comes together a bit like Citizen Kane meets the rotoscoped stylization of Waking Life, and its use of the investigatory conceit serves a very interesting purpose. Namely, Loving Vincent espouses a theory developed by Pulitzer Prize-winning biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith with their 2011 book “Van Gogh: The Life,” in which they posit that the artist was a victim of manslaughter or murder rather than suicide. The film declines to make any definitive statement on the veracity of this postulation, but it’s an intriguing theory with some distinctly believable evidentiary support. That suicide note in Lust for Life? Never happened.

Dr Gachet (Jerome Flynn)

Loving Vincent is an artistic accomplishment of unquestionable aesthetic merit. Fans of van Gogh will be blown away by the technical virtuosity and almost absurd logistical coordination that went into this production — and it is absolutely, unequivocally gorgeous to look at. While the script is occasionally prone to slavish idolatry, the film’s unique visual approach to its subject marks it as a singularly distinctive screen dramatization of van Gogh’s tragically short life. It’s certainly not a perfect film by any stretch, but it is first and foremost a labor of love. And as far as passion projects go, Kobiela and Welchman have created something so genuine, so sincere, that it’s hard to imagine van Gogh being anything other than pleased. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violence, sexual material and smoking. Opens Friday at Fine Arts Theatre.


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4 thoughts on “Loving Vincent

  1. Raleigh-ite

    Thanks for reviewing this! I also found it an amazing visual experience, and an interesting approach (a bursting-with-color film noir, in a way) to a well-known story. If I hadn’t read your review (and the review on Slant Magazine’s website [they hated it]), I would have missed it! It’s showing in the Triangle only one week at one location, the Durham Carolina Theater, and unfortunately in their smallest-screen theater.

    • Scott Douglas

      I’m not shocked that Slate hated it, but I’m happy you disregarded their pan and decided to see it anyway. Catching it on the big(ish) screen is definitely the right call with this one.

  2. Raleigh-ite

    Seems I spoke too soon – the Durham Carolina has extended this film’s run another week, and will move it to their larger cinema screen. Must be getting some good word-of-mouth.

    • Scott Douglas

      I’m glad they’re keeping it around — though that could simply be a function of the fact that everything else that came out this week ran the gamut from merely tolerable to absolutely terrible…

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