LUST FOR LIFE,

Pasatiempo - - RANDOM ACTS - For Life Lust

When lis­ten­ing to Amer­i­can ac­tors do poor at­tempts at for­eign ac­cents, one some­times wishes they wouldn’t bother and just rely on their own pro­nun­ci­a­tions in­stead. What ac­tor should have to worry about whether he sounds con­vinc­ing on top of think­ing about con­vey­ing feel­ing, pas­sion, and emo­tion? In

(1956), we never have to hear Kirk Dou­glas sport a fake Dutch ac­cent. The film, di­rected by Vin­cente Min­nelli, is a bi­og­ra­phy of Post-Im­pres­sion­ist Vin­cent van Gogh (Dou­glas), adapted from Irv­ing Stone’s 1934 novel into an Os­car-nom­i­nated screen­play by Nor­man Cor­win. It isn’t true to life in all of its bi­o­graph­i­cal de­tails, but its tone cap­tures the spirit of op­ti­mism, pros­per­ity, and artis­tic bo­hemi­an­ism that de­fined the Belle Époque. The film is screening as part of Vi­o­let Crown’s Es­sen­tial Cin­ema se­ries.

The story starts with van Gogh fail­ing his en­trance ex­ams to study the­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Am­s­ter­dam but man­ag­ing to se­cure a post as min­is­ter to a Bel­gian min­ing com­mu­nity soon af­ter. Choos­ing to live in squalor de­spite a stipend, van Gogh strug­gles to un­der­stand the con­di­tion of his less-for­tu­nate con­gre­gants. He tries to live a spir­i­tual life de­void of pos­ses­sions, ex­cept for his co­pi­ous draw­ings of vil­lage life and towns­folk and an old straw mat to sleep on. Al­though a min­ing tragedy oc­curs in th­ese early scenes, it serves as a dra­matic de­vice, whereas in­ci­dents such as van Gogh’s dis­missal from his post by church of­fi­cials who felt his im­pov­er­ished life­style de­meaned it, are based in fact. Irv­ing re­lied on van Gogh’s cor­re­spon­dences with his brother Theo when he wrote the novel.

Van Gogh has the first of sev­eral crises af­ter the mine col­lapse, when he ques­tions his faith and is con­vinced by Theo (played sym­pa­thet­i­cally by James Don­ald), to re­turn home to his par­ents while he fig­ures things out. Van Gogh ar­gues with his fa­ther, a min­is­ter, while at the fam­ily din­ner ta­ble, caus­ing disruption when he bluntly voices the pas­sion­ate dic­tates of his heart, which are at odds with the wishes of his staid and sanc­ti­mo­nious fa­ther. He falls hard for his re­cently wid­owed cousin Kay ( Jeanette Sterke), who comes for a visit. De­spite an ap­par­ent bud­ding romance be­tween them, she spurns his ad­vances. When Kay re­treats to her fam­ily’s home, re­fus­ing to an­swer his letters, he shows up and is po­litely told that he dis­gusts her. His dis­ap­point­ment reg­is­ters and so does his shock. The episode fur­ther sets the tone — that of the mis­un­der­stood ge­nius — for the rest of the film. Al­though Kay is never men­tioned again, one senses that his un­re­quited at­tach­ment is, in part, at the root of his angst.

Dou­glas, who once de­scribed his life as a B-movie script, is adept at play­ing hard men and heroic char­ac­ters who act with bravura, but his per­for­mance here is nu­anced as well as fren­zied and im­pas­sioned. Van Gogh is a chal­leng­ing role, and he rises to the

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