Review: Loving Vincent

By Amy Shimmin – @amylfc

GFT, 17/10-19/10 ‘17

First of all, it is not enough to consider Loving Vincent solely as a film. We are reminded before the picture starts that ‘the film [we] are about to see has been entirely hand painted’; this is the fruit of over one hundred artists. Each frame of the movie has been painted in Van Gogh’s signature style: swooping brushstrokes of oil paint. This, in itself, is an unprecedented achievement, and worthy of merit. There is a silent awareness amongst the audience that we are watching something that goes beyond mere camera and film.

For a film based around the ‘father of modern art’, he appears solely in memories and flashback sequences. The film is set a year after his death, and Armand Roulin becomes protagonist. Roulin, the son of Van Gogh’s well-acquainted postman, is entrusted to deliver a letter to Van Gogh’s brother, Theo Van Gogh. At points it feels almost detective-esque as Roulin rather seeks to answer the mystery of ‘why’ and rather than ‘how’ Van Gogh died. While the film seeks to answer doubts surrounding his death, the biographic nature introduces the audience to aspects about his life, for example, his childhood and close relationship with Theo.

Van Gogh the character appears primarily through stories from characters that had been subjects of the real artists’ work, each recounting their experience in the days leading to his death. His famous letters form the backbone of the plot – there would be no story to tell without them – and these bring the man to life, even in his surprising physical absence throughout, beyond the third-party stories. In fact, the title pays homage to his writing style; he signs his many letters to Theo as ‘your loving Vincent.’

While Van Gogh’s style is central to the visual elements, some of his most famous works clearly influence the experience. ‘The Church at Auvers’, ‘Café Terrace at Night’ and the unmistakable ‘The Starry Night’ come to life throughout; there are points, however, where the constant animation, especially between paint strokes, can be taxing and distracting to watch. Despite this, there is evidently great care taken to capture the soul of each image referenced.

In one of his last letters, Van Gogh wrote that ‘we cannot speak other than by our paintings’. With this in mind, it seems only fitting to tell the story of his life in such a way – Loving Vincent is a groundbreaking piece of cinema that encapsulates the work of a groundbreaking man.

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