Van Gogh’s death, told through stun­ning im­ages

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - MOVIES - By Rick Bent­ley

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.

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