Van Gogh’s death, told through stunning images
Dorota Kobiela has a deep passion for filmmaking and the works of Vincent van Gogh. She’s brought those two loves together to create “Loving Vincent,” the most visually stimulating feature film to be released in years.
The film is the result of what can happen when a director is inspired to look beyond the celluloid canvas to tell her story. To achieve this, Kobiela used a selection of van Gogh paintings as the basis of the visuals for the production, and through the work of hundreds of painters she created 65,000 handpainted frames of film that wove seamlessly the moments from one van Gogh work to another. In the world of animation, van Gogh would be the film illustrator and the other artists the go-betweeners.
Each brushstroke by the army of artists is used to tell the story of what happened after van Gogh’s death in 1890. The script is based on letters written by the artist and his brother, Theo, along with other documentation from that time. In the summer of 1891, Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) is given a letter from Vincent by his father, Postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), to hand-deliver to Vincent’s brother. During his trek, Armand begins to get a clearer picture of van Gogh. And the more Armand learns, the more he begins to question the reports that van Gogh committed suicide.
All of the characters are brought to life by a cast filmed in a green-screen environment. This allowed each painter to give the scene a look taken from one of van Gogh’s works while still maintaining the MPAA rating: PG-13 Running time: 1:35 integrity of the performance. Those familiar with van Gogh’s work will be able to spot which paintings inspired which characters. Even the actors are painted into the scenes to make them look as if they come from van Gogh’s world.
And there were plenty of works by the Dutch painter to use; in just over a decade, he created approximately 2,100 artworks, including 860 oil paintings. His most famous works include “The Starry Night” and “Sunflowers.”
That connection to van Gogh’s work is a plus for the film’s cinematography but is counterproductive to the work of the actors. The performances by strong actors like O’Dowd, Saoirse Ronan and Booth are lost because each frame of film is such a masterwork that it overpowers even the best performance.
But “Loving Vincent” is a movie that shuns the conventional and embraces the original with a deadly grip. Because it was put together in an unconventional manner, it requires the audience to reset its own calibration in regard to watching the film so that there’s more of a willingness to accept this brave presentation. Although the script is a little disjointed, it’s the visuals that make this film work. You could watch “Loving Vincent” without the sound and still be entertained by the visual spectacle.
Through Kobiela’s loving guidance, the essence of each van Gogh is protected even when some modifications had to be made. Kobiela would often pan through the painting or in some cases create areas outside the canvas to stretch the painting to fit a movie screen.
There is a stunning flow to each scene as the artist took van Gogh’s unique use of color, shape and texture and transformed it into a moving world. Water dances in those commalike shapes and swirls that are almost a signature to a van Gogh painting, while backgrounds explode with very distinct hues.
There have been plenty of movies over the years that have had cinematography so beautiful that each frame looks like a piece of art. “Loving Vincent” takes that one step further, as each frame is a piece of art that brings a new kind of motion to the artist’s work.
Vincent van Gogh’s paintings are the basis of the visuals.