Loving Vincent Review
If you have heard anything about this film before, you probably already know that it is the first ever fully painted animated feature. Despite its visual beauty, Loving Vincent is not devoid of any substance either; it is a powerful and often heartbreaking ode to one of the most universally celebrated artists of all time.
As the title suggests, this is a film devoted to the work and life of Vincent van Gogh, one of the most misunderstood and tragic figures of the 19th century. Some viewed him as a lovely, if somewhat quiet, genius, while others believed that he was nothing more than an evil madman. One of the most saddening things about van Gogh is that some aspects of his life (especially how he died) are shrouded in mystery, and you are not always certain who you believe as you hear various characters in the story give differing accounts of their experiences with Vincent.
Set one year after Vincent's death, the story follows Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a cynical, violent young man who has little interest in van Gogh. But when Armand's postman father (Chris O'Dowd) asks his son to deliver a letter that Vincent wrote to his brother Theo, Armand reluctantly agrees to take the letter to him. But as Armand discovers more about Vincent from numerous people who knew him, he finds himself drawn to how much of an enigma the now famous painter was. Not only that, but we are provided with an insight into the effect Vincent had on others, as well as the impact he had following his death.
No one can deny the incredible amount of effort that must have gone into this project. Approximately 65,000 frames were painted by an extremely talented artistic team, and this team used crepuscular, melancholy colours to emulate Vincent's iconic style. Every single scene looks like something that van Gogh would have painted himself, and that is a remarkable achievement on its own.
My biggest fear with Loving Vincent, however, was that it was going to be an emotionally hollow experience with a weak narrative. On the contrary, it made me cry. While the story is typical of biographical films the most interesting aspects of Vincent's character are explored here, from his upbringing to the series of events that resulted in his premature death. I personally would have liked to have learnt even more about him and felt like the film did not share all of the information that it could have, but it is testament to those working on this project that they covered a lot of the key points regarding Vincent's fascinating personality in the most visually imaginative way possible.
It is intriguing to see that Vincent was not a popular figure when he was alive, only managing to sell one of his paintings during his ten-year career, despite the fact that he had created roughly 900 paintings in his lifetime. In actuality, it is rather devastating especially considering how thoughtful, sincere and passionate he was, not just about art, but about life itself. This under-appreciation of Vincent that we witness throughout the film is bound to make any viewer frustrated and upset; van Gogh found beauty in so many things, and yet very few people saw the beauty in him.
The performances deserve praise too (it was shot as a live-action film initially but was then painted over). Douglas Booth is lugubrious and incredulous enough to make a compelling lead character, and the standouts from the supporting cast are Jerome Flynn as Dr. Gachet (Vincent's doctor and close friend), as well as Saoirse Ronan as Marguerite Gachet, Dr. Gachet's daughter who some believe was romantically linked with Vincent.
Loving Vincent has issues with regards to its storytelling and pacing, but what it does so well is dig deep into the life of one deeply troubled man while still managing to showcase a lot of his wonderful, positive characteristics. Vincent was a gorgeously poetic man, and one of my favourites quotes of his is "I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream". This thoughtful approach to life shows that Vincent was not dishonourable or immoral; he dreamt of something much larger than himself, and it was this immense sensitivity that cost him his sanity.