Loving Vincent

 

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A highly adventurous film which may prompt reactions of both love and hate.

 
Loving Vincent

A painterly Eleanor Tomlinson

 

The painter who has inspired more movies than any other is undoubtedly Vincent Van Gogh, among them works by such noted filmmakers as Vincente Minnelli, Paul Cox, Robert Altman and Maurice Pialat. That fact alone makes it remarkable that this co-production between Poland and the UK should find an approach that is entirely fresh - more astonishing still is the fact that its novelty value takes not one but two forms.

 

First of all, Loving Vincent presents itself as a story told a year after the artist's death in 1890. Joseph Roulin, the son of the postmaster of Arles who had been painted by Van Gogh, is entrusted by his father with a letter that had been addressed by Vincent to his brother Theo but which had got astray. Joseph travels to Paris where he learns that Theo too is dead, and then on to Auvers-sur-Oise, the scene of Vincent's supposed suicide. He plans to hand the letter to Dr. Gichet who had attended the dying man and had also been a personal friend of the artist. On arrival, however, Joseph finds that everybody he talks to seems to have a different view of Vincent Van Gogh and of those who were around him and even the notion of suicide is questioned.

 

In this way, Loving Vincent is akin to a mystery story with echoes of the Japanese classic Rashomon (1951) with its conflicting versions of events and of Anthony Asquith's The Woman in Question (1950) in which the portrayal of the character of a dead woman  depends on how others saw her and varies accordingly As an approach, this remains novel enough to be thoroughly involving even if here one can be taken aback at the fact that all of the characters speak English (indeed Douglas Booth's accent for Joseph Roulin is decidedly British working class, although one forgets this nationality issue when it comes to Saoirse Ronan's innkeeper's daughter so beguiling is her delivery of the lines).

 

But, if this novel feature successfully intrigues us, I am less sure about the effectiveness of the element that is the film's claim to uniqueness.  Initially filmed with the actors, it was then transformed over seven years into what is described as the first fully hand-painted animation feature. Yet, however different the procedure may be, it reminds one of Richard Linklater's films Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006) which took live footage and then applied digital rotoscoping to every frame. The voices of the actors are, of course, retained, but the individuality of Loving Vincent undoubtedly lies first and foremost in its look. The film's recreation of Van Gogh's style of painting, especially in the main narrative done in colour (flashbacks are limited to black and white), is ingenious. At its best, this reproduction is wondrous and startling, even if from time to time the animation can carry a distant reminder of tourist tat. Rather more disturbingly, lines on screen tend to run distractingly so that even just looking at some object such as Joseph Roulin's jacket can be unsettling to the eyes. Some will adjust to this more quickly than others. This is indeed an extraordinary piece of work, but I would expect responses to range from total admiration to an irritated early departure from the cinema.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Helen McCrory, Chris O'Dowd, Saoirse Ronan, Eleanor Tomlinson, Robert Gulaczk, John Sessions, Aidan Turner.

 

Dir Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, Pro Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt and Ivan Mactaggart, Screenplay Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Jacek Dehnel, Ph Tristan Oliver and Lukasz Zal, Pro Des Matthew Button, Ed Justyna Wierszynska and Dorota Kobiela, Music Clint Mansell, Costumes Dorota Roqueplo.

 

Break Thru Films & Trademark Films/Good Deed Entertainment/RBF Productions/Silver Reel/Sevenex Capital Partners/Polish Film Institute-Altitude Film Entertainment.
95 mins. UK/Poland. 2017. Rel: 13 October 2017. Cert. 12A.