I don’t think I really need to warn you, my faithful reader, about spoilers because I feel like anyone who took an art class (even if only in elementary school) is aware of the mystery surrounding Van Gogh’s death… but if it has been a while, or you’ve been living under a rock and you’re purposefully keeping yourself in the dark so you can enjoy this film with the freshest perspective, definitely don’t read this review first. This has been your long-winded spoiler warning.
I first became aware of this film about six years ago. Once the trailer hit social media, friend after friend shared it with me—”You’ll love this!” “It looks right up your alley!” “This reminded me of you!” And after watching the trailer and scouring the internets for more information, I was quickly disheartened to see that it would be quite a while before this film would make it to theaters; would I even be living in a place that I’d get to see it in theaters? Would I have to wait for it to hit a streaming service and would I have the experienced I longed for seeing it on my TV at home? (Is this a film that would just sail on the big screen?)
Fast-forward six years to the present, and I’m very fortunate to live in a town with one of the last surviving art house cinemas in the state. And what should I see while browsing their weekly line-up? Could it be? Was I finally going to get to see Loving Vincent?!
The answer is obviously ‘yes’. I woke up this morning with such excitement; the project I had been keeping tabs on for years was finally within my reach and I had a free movie pass just burning a hole in my pocket on such a grey and cloudy day… It was going to be perfect. [Before we get things really rolling, I just wanted to note that I was the only person present under the age of sixty in the audience which wasn’t that surprising given the fact that it was in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. And not to alienate any Baby-boomers who might be reading this but dang do y’all talk a bunch during previews AND you consistently leave your ringers on during the movie. What’s up with that, eh?]
Was ‘Loving Vincent’ a perfect masterpiece with no flaws present? No. But was it a perfect viewing experience and did it live up to the very slow-build anticipation of a project that had been in the works for over six years? For me? Yes. I absolutely loved it, and ‘Loving Vincent’ will go down in my top movies of this year, and quite possibly my personal top ten (though definitely behind films like ‘A Ghost Story’ and ‘Arrival’. Sorry, thems are the breaks, y’all).
Critics are mostly on board with labeling ‘Loving Vincent’ a success, though I feel like even a lot of the positive reviews are really critical of this film. Perhaps the long game of anticipation set expectations too high for said reviewers and admittedly sometimes the pacing is off and sometimes the visuals are a bit dizzying (it can remove one from the experience). But all in all, I would say that ‘Loving Vincent’ was indeed a labor of love and a wonderful tribute to the melancholy genius that was Van Gogh.
If you’re unaware of the story of this film, enjoy this synopsis gleaned from IMDB:
A year after the death of the artist, Vincent van Gogh, Postman Roulin gets his slacker son, Armand, to hand deliver the artist’s final letter to his now late brother, Theo, to some worthy recipient after multiple failed postal delivery attempts. Although disdainful of this seemingly pointless chore, Armand travels to Auvers-sure-Oise where a purported close companion to Vincent, Dr. Gachet, lives. Having to wait until the doctor returns from business, Armand meets many of the people of that village who not only knew Vincent, but were apparently also models and inspirations for his art. In doing so, Armond becomes increasingly fascinated in the psyche and fate of Van Gogh as numerous suspicious details fail to add up. However, as Armond digs further, he comes to realize that Vincent’s troubled life is as much a matter of interpretation as his paintings and there are no easy answers for a man whose work and tragedy would only be truly appreciated in the future.
‘Loving Vincent’ is the love-labor of Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. The film consists of 65,000 frames and was achieved by a team of over one hundred painters painting over a thousand canvases with oil paints in the style of Van Gogh. The technique took nearly four years to perfect; it then took another two years to complete the film. For more information about this film, I really urge you to explore the official website.
The biggest criticism I can offer is what I’ve already mentioned: at times the frames move so quickly, and in Van Gogh’s style that it can be a dizzying experience and at times, the pacing is a bit inconsistent. I also found myself in danger of breaking the spell of suspension-of-disbelief as new characters were introduced, trying to place the voice of actors I know quite well whose features were somewhat disguised by their painted appearance (mostly I’m talking about the dreamboat Aidan Turner and his ‘Poldark’ counterpart, Eleanor Tomlinson). And while other critics did not enjoy the turn that ‘Loving Vincent’ takes, as it definitely flirts with the idea of becoming a murder mystery rather than the quiet exploration of the end of Van Gogh’s life, I for one enjoyed this flirtation, losing myself in Armand Roulin’s puzzlement and frustrated curiosity.
‘Loving Vincent’ is whimsical and ethereal and more than once did I find occasion to wipe away a solitary tear; I very much empathize with Van Gogh’s sentiment about being a nobody—and the desire to show what is inside of one’s self regardless. I just really love a good bummer. How crazy is it that Van Gogh never really knew success and yet is credited by his art world peers as the Father of Modern Art?
Final Verdict: ‘Loving Vincent’ is not a film for everyone and yet I would still recommend that everyone give it a try—the technique of hand-painting alone is breathtaking and worth your time.