Does the animated film live up to the hype?
You know that Loving Vincent is going to be something special from the moment the opening credits end – The Starry Night on screen in front of you, vibrant and moving, then opens up, draws you into the painting.
I’m not sure it would have worked as a traditional film, but by using the animated medium the way the film does (over 65,000 oil paintings), it connects to the life and death of Vincent Van Gogh in a way that traditional film mediums just wouldn’t.
Anticipation didn’t detract from the overall quality of the film – while Loving Vincent came out in October, complete with a live Q&A with its creators, our local cinema, due to being an independent council run cinema tends to get its films considerably later than most. It helped the atmosphere – it’s a much more intimate viewing experience, for one.
There was not a plot in the traditional sense and yet it still draws you in. The basic storyline is very bare bones – Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), son of Postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), both Vincent’s artistic subjects, attempts to deliver a letter that Van Gogh had written when he lived in Arles two years before. Van Gogh’s landlord had held on to it until he heard that Vincent had died. But, whether it’s the soundtrack, the style – thousands of hand painted frames in the style of some of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, or the subject matter, the film is uncanny and haunting.
At its heart Loving Vincent is the study of a simple question – why did Vincent Van Gogh die? Did he really kill himself or was there something more nefarious at work? It’s a question the film leaves unanswered – and rightly in my opinion – it wouldn’t be right to claim a specific ‘truth’ when so much of the artist’s death lays shrouded in mystery.
Those in the know about Van Gogh’s paintings will certainly enjoy the film more than those who know maybe The Starry Night and Sunflowers – the Easter Eggs and nods to Van Gogh’s work are innumerable, and there’s a frisson of excitement every time you recognise one – the one thing that Loving Vincent does best is to bring his masterpieces to life.
Overall, Loving Vincent is a strange film; it sits outside of easy categories or genres. While Van Gogh’s death lies at the heart of the film, it’s not a murder mystery, despite the critics that have described it as such. It’s a film of emotion and personality which is fitting, considering Van Gogh’s work.
While Loving Vincent is a work of fiction, it’s a good enough story that it could have happened, and it’s a testament to the power of Van Gogh’s art that it is totally believable.