Amidst the worst of the year, I did find one film that managed to grab my attention by being as unique as possible. An animation made entirely out of oil canvas paintings. If you know anything about traditional 2D animation, this is a preposterous undertaking that even great studios would never even attempt. However, this was clearly a labor of love all done in service in honor of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the world’s greatest artists and my own personal favorite painter. But going into this film, I had a feeling I would be impressed with the filmmaking style as surely other parts of a production like story, script, acting, and score would all take backseat in service of the Herculean undertaking the 100 artists who made each frame of this picture. But is there a slight chance that the film is still good on its own merits? Let’s break it down.
The film takes place about a year after the apparent suicide of Vincent Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) where Postman Roulin (The IT Crowd‘s Chris O’Dowd) requests his son Armand (Douglas Booth) to deliver Vincent’s last letter to his brother Theo. While Armand, belligerent and rebellious, didn’t much care for the late painter; he nonetheless decides to locate the surviving family member…only to learn Theo passed away recently as well. Given a clue by Van Gogh’s paint supplier (John Sessions), Theo travels to the city where the painter died to speak with his last doctor, Gachet (Game of Thrones‘ Jerome Flynn) to discover who else he can leave Van Gogh’s final letter. But while hanging around the small town, Armand begins to suspect that the painter’s death was as suspicious as his father initially believed when he begins talking to the town’s strange residents played by Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCroy, Eleanor Tomlinson, and Aidan Turner.
I can’t stop talking about just how gorgeous this film looks. Honestly, any single scene in this movie is a sight to behold. If ever was there a time to say: “Every frame looks like a painting,” this is the movie to say it, because that’s literally what happened. Check this video that demonstrates exactly how they pulled this feat off because it’s well worth your time. Each second, another painting, each second another work of art; and it all moves so fluidly and yet each scene transition carries with a brush smudge here as the film weaves it tale. And even when it’s not giving you glorious impressionist colors, the film switches to black and white sketch paintings that still look gorgeous. It’s like being submerged in the world created by Vincent Van Gogh, while you see his various subjects speak to each other…literally.
Many of the film’s characters were real-life people that Van Gogh had painted in his lifetime, so it’s a special treat to see Armand Roulin interact with each of these characters. If you’re a fan or admirer of Van Gogh’s, this film may as well have been designed for you. If you’re not familiar with Van Gogh’s work or life, your instead given a crash course on the circumstances regarding his death as well viewing his most famous works. All of this is set to a wonderful score by But the bonus is this: the story you’re presented with is actually good.
Taking on the form of a proper mystery, Armand basically becomes a noir-inspired detective as he prowls the French country side, interrogating residents who saw Van Gogh in his last days, and contradicting them with inconsistent testimonies from others. You genuinely get a great little mystery as Armand begins to suspect foul play from one of the town’s residents because deep down, neither Armand nor his father could believe the famous artist had killed himself within six weeks of his last letter to them declaring himself of sound mind.
But the true tragedy of this film is the slow realization that Van Gogh’s depression truly took hold of the man, and ultimately claimed his life. Yet, you see this realization play out in real time as acquaintances and friends of the painter try to justify the circumstances of his death while also indulging in a blame game of others…and sometimes themselves. I can easily see this film being rough on people who have seen others succumb to depression, but the picture never beats you over the head with how tragic it all is. I really haven’t seen a film that handled the concept of survivor’s guilt as deftly as Loving Vincent, where some of the town’s residents, particularly those played by Saoirse Ronan and Jerome Flynn, grapple with some hard truths and complex emotions.
Incidentally, the voice acting here is impeccable. Everyone in the cast clearly gave as much as a damn about the project as any of the artists meticulously crafting every second of this film. While Ronan and Flynn gave superb performances, it’s Douglas Booth who walks away with the MVP for me. Between channeling hard boiled detectives that came before him and giving a slight hint of guilt for taking Van Gogh for granted, there’s an honest to God character arc that belongs entirely to him and the creative forces behind this movie.
At the helm for writing and directing duties are filmmakers, Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, both making their feature length debut after mutual successes in animated shorts. And what a debut these two have made with a film that looks so unlike anything else is creating right now and still manages to convey the passion they each had for their subject. Honestly, these two were at the head of a major international undertaking from various animation studios all across the European continent while being partially funded through the Polish Film Institute and even some global patrons on Kickstarter. To see years of hard work come together for what’s genuinely a solid product is nothing short of a miracle, and I couldn’t be more prouder for anymore involved.
Honestly there’s barely anything to criticize this fine piece of work for. Maybe because there were plenty of heavy moments that were tugging at my heartstrings, but nothing triggered my tear ducts would dock it a point…it’s a small point. Because even the score was given some attention, in a nice sweeping orchestra that delivered some sadly beautiful songs to compliment the ambitious art direction and solid acting. So with that, I’m begging you to try finding this movie in a theater near you. Don’t wait for Netflix on this one, as this deserves the theater treatment. I’m giving Loving Vincent a very enthusiastic…