Van Gogh’s paint­ings spring to life, vividly

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Stephanie Merry

★★★5 Rated PG-13. 94 min­utes.

“Lov­ing Vin­cent” is, indis­putably, a tech­ni­cal achieve­ment.

Each one of the am­bi­tious an­i­mated film’s 65,000 frames is an oil paint­ing, cre­ated by a clas­si­cally trained artist in the style — or, rather, in the var­i­ous styles — of painter Vin­cent Van Gogh. More than 100 painters worked to­gether to cre­ate the film — in­clud­ing Dena Peter­son, a Colorado Springs painter and one of only 10 U.S. artists rep­re­sented — as it fol­lows an ac­quain­tance of the artist who is try­ing to un­cover how and why Van Gogh died in 1890, at 37.

Vis­ually, it’s spec­tac­u­lar. Con­cep­tu­ally, it’s jaw-drop­ping to sim­ply con­sider the ef­fort that went into this.

The story, how­ever, doesn’t al­ways hold its own.

Hus­band-and-wife film­mak­ers Dorota Ko­biela and Hugh Welch­man di­rected the drama, which they wrote with Jacek Dehnel. All are fairly new to fea­ture film­mak­ing. Ko­biela — an an­i­ma­tor with the most ex­pe­ri­ence of the three — has co-di­rected only one other fea­ture, mak­ing this ac­com­plish­ment all the more impressive.

The tale be­gins one year af­ter Van Gogh has died, pur­port­edly from a self-in­flicted gun­shot wound. Joseph Roulin (voice of Chris O’Dowd), a post­man and friend of the artist whom Van

im­mor­tal­ized in por­trai­ture, tasks his son Ar­mand (Dou­glas Booth) with de­liv­er­ing the last let­ter that Van Gogh wrote be­fore dy­ing — one ad­dressed to the artist’s brother Theo.

Ar­mand’s jour­ney takes the first of sev­eral de­tours once he re­al­izes that Theo, too, is dead. So Ar­mand trav­els to Au­verssur-Oise, the town where Van Gogh died, to meet with the peo­ple who knew the painter in an ef­fort to un­der­stand what ex­actly hap­pened. What starts out as an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the sui­cide of a man — whose de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety seemed to be lift­ing just be­fore his death — turns into a who­dunit.

In re­al­ity, much of the po­ten­tial mur­der mys­tery feels like an excuse to merely re­visit char­ac­ters and scenes from Van Gogh’s art. Watch­ing “Lov­ing Vin­cent” in­volves some­thing of an Easter egg hunt, as view­ers may try to pick out the fa­mous works of art from among its scenes. There are por­traits of Van Gogh’s doc­tor, Paul Ga­chet (Jerome Flynn), and his daugh­ter Mar­guerite (Saoirse Ro­nan), along with a glimpse of “The Starry Night” and of boats on the Oise River bank.

Van Gogh’s 1890 por­trait of Ade­line Ravoux, the daugh­ter of innkeep­Gogh ers at the house where Van Gogh died, may not be his best known work, but the char­ac­ter of Ade­line (Eleanor Tom­lin­son), who has plenty of the­o­ries about the enig­matic artist, makes a deep im­pres­sion.

Some ex­changes between Ar­mand and the peo­ple he meets are more mean­ing­ful than oth­ers. At times, the nar­ra­tive drags, as Ar­mand plays sleuth in pur­suit of a so­lu­tion to a mys­tery that may not even be one.

There is nev­er­the­less a thrill in watch­ing static im­ages spring to life as com­plex char­ac­ters and dy­namic land­scapes.

“Lov­ing Vin­cent” is it­self an imag­i­na­tive work of art. And what bet­ter way than that to honor its sub­ject?

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