Picoreview: Loving Vincent: an amazing work of art that proves worth it in the end.
I’m not a particular Van Gogh fan, or at least I wasn’t before Vincent and the Doctor, which–I will fight you on this–is one of the best episodes of Doctor Who ever filmed. So I wasn’t going to Loving Vincent because I love Vincent, but rather because it’s been billed as an astonishing work of art.
And it is. They filmed it about five years ago and have spent the intervening time in post-production, hand painting every single frame with oils, in Van Gogh’s style. Over a hundred artists worked on it, and the resultant effort is…it’s an amazing work of art. It really is.
Part of the result, though, is also that it has an almost stop-motion feel to it at times, especially early on (when I was still getting used to it, maybe) and I really dislike stop-motion, so I personally probably could have done with a little less loving jolty detail and a bit more smoothness (I *loved* the black and white sequences, which were painted more smoothly), but I acknowledge that’s on me. What’s less on me is that there were times–again, especially in the beginning, where the dialogue (much of it presented by Chris O’Dowd (the film is chock bloody full of Irish actors and I have no idea why, but it is. :))) takes on a narrative tone that’s Very Stilted. It sounds like a not especially accomplished stage performance, and it doesn’t mesh well with the visuals. It sounds very much as though it was done separately and dubbed in, which may be exactly what happened, but it really doesn’t flow aurally with the imagery. It evens out later (once O’Dowd is off screen, honestly), but I think it takes longer for the audio to settle than the visuals, which…the visuals in this movie should be harder, I think.
The story itself is presented as a mystery: Van Gogh has died, but he left a letter to deliver to his brother. O’Dowd’s character was the postman who delivered their letters, and sets his son to deliver it; the son, resentful at first, gradually gets caught up in the story of the last days of Van Gogh’s life, and begins to struggle with the question of whether Van Gogh committed suicide or was murdered. It’s only a 96 minute movie, but I found myself thinking it was pretty slow and somewhat tedious…but by the end, thanks in large part to a genuinely powerful and moving monologue performance by Jerome Flynn as Van Gogh’s doctor Gachet, I was completely invested and a little teary-eyed. Many of the audience around me were sniffling and wiping their eyes, more affected than I was.
Every character (and setting) in the film is inspired by a Van Gogh painting. Some are the people he actually painted, playing ‘themselves’; some are cast from paintings around whom a character was built. One of the splendid bits is that at the end, the original inspirational painting is presented beside a photograph of the actor, and then, where available, other paintings and photographs of the actual person are used so we can see the journey from person to painting to actor to character, which I thought was really splendid.
In the end, I think it’s well worth seeing, especially on a big screen, where the effort and artistry that’s been put into it is clearly visible. But then you should watch Vincent and the Doctor, because it’ll rip your heart out where Loving Vincent only tugs at the heartstrings.