“Loving Vincent”: A Nickell-odeon Review

December 18, 2017

Loving Vincent is unique: the world’s first animated feature film that was entirely painted in oils! Its storyline begins a year after the death of Vincent Van Gogh and follows Armand (a postman’s son) as he attempts to deliver the painter’s sidetracked last letter to his brother Theo. Along the way Armand is forced to consider whether Vincent’s suicide was in reality a homicide.

The animation is a remarkable accomplishment. It recreates, in Vincent’s vivid impasto brushstrokes, his life and work—featuring 130 of his paintings (including of course his swirling, luminescent masterwork, Starry Night).

The effort began by casting actors who resembled Van Gogh’s portraits of his friends (Douglas Booth portraying Armand, for example), and the live-action footage was then transformed into 65,000 frames painted in oils by 125 artists (not commercial animators). Each frame was projected on canvas and successively painted over, until the last frame of a given shot was reached.

Unfortunately, the dramatically colorful visuals often overwhelm the, ah, film noir narrative. Despite its clever concept, the storyline seems to lack sufficient intrigue, no doubt because the suicide-versus-murder plot is so ambivalent—the truth being left to the viewer to decide.

Spoiler alert—of sorts: Viewers should not put too much stock in the “murder” scenario. It derives from the 2011 book by Naifeh and Smith, Van Gogh: The Life, which elaborates on a rumor that a teenager had somehow shot Vincent. But the dying painter admitted he had shot himself, and the teenager is alibied by evidence that he had left Auvers with his family (to visit their villa in Normandy) earlier that month. (See my blog, “Van Gogh ‘Murdered’—Again,” November 25, 2014.)

Despite the schism in Loving Vincent between visuals and narrative, the co-writers/co-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman—have given us an important and must-see film. If it is imperfect, it nevertheless provides very much to admire.

Rating: Three wooden nickels (out of four).

Three Nickels