Movie MAGic #1: Loving Vincent // Patrick

In Movie MAGic, we review films with art or artist-related themes from Hollywood biopics to foreign art house movies, and rate them for you with our own VS scale of difficulty;

EASY

Straight forward plot, easy to follow and entertaining. Requires little thought. Sunday afternoon, stuff. Starring actors you’ve probably heard of. Definitely no subtitles.

MODERATE

Nothing too scary, possibility of subtitles, but still a straight forward, average length film; no explosions or car chases, but a high chance of intense emotional grimacing and moody silences. Might possibly be in black and white, which could just mean that’s it’s old rather than arty.

DIFFICULT

Might have a challenging length, non-linear story structure, avant-garde cinematography or mature themes (sexuality, nudity, etc). High probability of subtitles. Afterwards you’ll feel like you’ve earned a good stiff drink, or a box set binge of light comedy to cheer yourself up.

Today’s movie offering is Loving Vincent, an animated feature about the last weeks of Vincent Van Gogh’s life. And no, we don’t have any Van Gogh’s in the gallery, unfortunately. But we do have works in our collection by Lucien Pissarro, who attended Van Gogh’s funeral, if that’s of any help.


Loving Vincent (2017)

Starring: Douglas Booth (him from The Limehouse Golem, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Jupiter Ascending)

Chris Dowd (him from The Crimson Petal and the White, I.T. Crowd, Of Mice and Men.)

Helen McCrory (her from Peaky Blinders, Fearless, and Penny Dreadful)

Saoirse Ronan (her from Atonement, Brooklyn and The Lovely Bones)

Aidan Turner (him from Being Human, Desperate Romantics, The Hobbit and Poldark)

Jerome Flynn (him from Soldier Soldier, Ripper Street and Game of Thrones)

Written by: Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela

Directed by: Hugh Welchman

Running time: 94 minutes

 Chris O’Dowd and Douglas Booth / ©Good Deed Entertainment

Chris O’Dowd and Douglas Booth / ©Good Deed Entertainment

A year after Vincent van Gogh’s death, Postmaster’s son, Armand Roulin, is tasked by his father to deliver a recently discovered letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo. On finding that Theo, too, has died, Armand heads for Auvers-sur-Oise, where Van Gogh spent the last months of his life. While waiting for Dr Cachet, who had treated Van Gogh, to return from a trip, he interrogates the locals, determined to uncover the truth about Van Gogh’s death.

This film takes the paintings of one of the world’s most popular artists and animates them, bringing them to life in spectacular fashion. Initially filmed as live-action on green screen sets, the actors were then traced frame-by-frame onto canvas. It’s a tale as old as time, or at least, as old as Disney, who used a similar technique in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (after Max Fleisher pioneered it in the 1940s). Here, though, the animation cels are rendered as oil paintings, in Van Gogh’s style.

Van Gogh’s death in July 1890 by gunshot wound is generally held to be  suicide. The film casts doubt on this, adding an element of murder mystery. It’s not so much a film noir, though, as a Starry Starry Noir, that ambles amiably along like a Sunday evening Cosy Crime drama, as Armand (Douglas Booth) questions those who knew Van Gogh during his last weeks; Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), daughter of the Inn where Van Gogh lodged, Doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn) and his daughter, Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan). Unlike an Agatha Christie story, however, we’re denied the final detective reveal of a guilty culprit, and you’re left to make your own mind up as the film ends, in the probably the only way it could, given its nature, with a cover version of Don McLean’s Starry, Starry Night.

The characters in the film are based on the actual subjects of Van Gogh’s paintings and their first introduction to the audience is briefly the pose in which Van Gogh captured them. In that way, the movie’s a great Where’s Wally? for art lovers and it’s fun seeing how many paintings you can spot (hint: there’s over 120 of them). However, while the landscapes come off well, it’s a little weird seeing familiar actors painted Van Gogh stylee.

Van Gogh himself gets a sympathetic treatment as a complex and troubled individual, only ever seen in black and white flashbacks; his life (and death) interpreted by those who thought they knew him.

There have been other films about Vincent’s life, but this is the first to use his paintings as a lens through which to view him. If you liked the Doctor Who episode ‘Vincent’, then you’ll probably enjoy this, too. In one of his last letters to his brother Theo, Vincent wrote that “we cannot speak other than by our paintings”. If that’s true, then this is definitely a film worth watching because, it seems, we just can’t help loving Vincent.

And if you’re interested, you can learn more about the making of the film here and here.


VS Verdict: EASY