Lov­ing Vin­cent

LOV­ING VIN­CENT, an­i­ma­tion, rated PG-13, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENT -

Vin­cent van Gogh was a bril­liant artist who was also a bit mad. That de­scrip­tion might ap­ply as well to Dorota Ko­biela and Hugh Welch­man, the cre­ators of Lov­ing Vin­cent, a movie that is be­ing billed as the world’s first fully hand-painted fea­ture: Ev­ery frame has been ex­e­cuted by a team of 125 artists wield­ing paint­brushes, work­ing in a tech­nique in which each scene is shot in live ac­tion and then painted over (sim­i­lar to the method used by Richard Lin­klater in Wak­ing Life). Seven years in the mak­ing; 62,450 paint­ings! This is some 61,600 more than van Gogh pro­duced in his short ca­reer.

The story line fol­lows a vaguely Cit­i­zen Kane tem­plate of char­ac­ter dis­cov­ery, with a dead letter serv­ing as this film’s Rose­bud. The letter, the last from van Gogh (Robert Gu­laczyk) to his brother Theo (Cezary Łukaszewicz), is dis­cov­ered by Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), the post­mas­ter at Ar­les, two years after the painter’s sui­cide. Roulin was fond of the artist who painted his and his fam­ily’s portraits, and he dispatches his son Ar­mand (Dou­glas Booth) to de­liver the letter. But Theo is dead by now too. So after dis­cussing the mat­ter with Père Tan­guy ( John Ses­sions), Vin­cent’s Parisian paint sup­plier, Ar­mand heads to Au­vers-sur- Oise to give the letter to Dr. Ga­chet ( Jerome Flynn), the painter’s friend and physi­cian. Th­ese two, like most of the denizens of this film, are fa­mous to­day as sub­jects of van Gogh’s portraits.

But the doc­tor is not in, and Ar­mand spends a few days talk­ing to the lo­cals and de­vel­op­ing a case that Vin­cent may not have died by his own hand (a the­ory ad­vanced in a con­tro­ver­sial 2011 bi­og­ra­phy, Van Gogh:

The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gre­gory White Smith). The who­dunit sto­ry­line is in­ter­est­ing enough, but that is not what will sep­a­rate you from the price of a movie ticket. The ap­peal of Lov­ing Vin­cent (the ti­tle de­rives from his sign-off to Theo, “Your Lov­ing Vin­cent”) is in its ex­trav­a­gant vi­su­als, clas­sic van Gogh paint­ings brought to an­i­mated life and used as ar­ma­tures for movie scenes. The story zigs back and forth be­tween its present tense of Ar­mand’s quest and flash­backs to the things he learns about the last year of Vin­cent’s life. The lat­ter are ren­dered in a fairly pedes­trian an­i­mated black-and-white re­al­ism and are more in­for­ma­tive than in­spir­ing. But the van Gogh an­i­ma­tion is as­ton­ish­ingly clever and beau­ti­fully ex­e­cuted. It has also sparked a rag­ing con­tro­versy over whether it suc­ceeds on its own terms or whether it triv­i­al­izes and de­bases the ge­nius of the orig­i­nal can­vases.

The lat­ter ar­gu­ment smacks to me of overzeal­ous pu­rity. It’s a movie. And it’s in the world of the paint­ings, the world seen through the eyes of this vi­sion­ary ge­nius, that the movie truly de­lights. — Jonathan Richards

Por­trait of an artist

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