Who was Vincent van Gogh? To some, he was a madman; to others, an artist; but most people simply saw him as a genius. Vincent was a man with a unique personality and a great gift, whose life wasn’t filled with roses, but with the difficult reality of being rejected by many. What can be a better way to celebrate van Gogh’s talent than to make a film about him, using the painter’s own post-impressionist style? Creating Loving Vincent, a Polish-British co-production, directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, must have been a mammoth task.
The entire project was created by 125 experienced painters from many parts of the world, including 65 from Dorota’s native Poland. It took a few years to finish, but when the fascinating work saw the light of day, it quickly received ravishing reviews, not only from the critics, but also from the audience. Loving Vincent had its UK premiere at the prestigious National Gallery during the 61st BFI London Film Festival.
What is so intriguing about Loving Vincent? First of all, the film was made up of 65,000 hand-printed frames, creating a sublime story about one of the most prominent painters of our time. For about 6 weeks, the aforementioned 125 painters received training in Van Gogh’s style of painting, and the results are stunning; the film is a visual feast, particularly when you watch it on the silver screen. Loving Vincent not only features a touching narrative but also beautifully crafted characters of van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk), Arman Roulin (Douglas Booth), postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), Louise Chevalier (Helen McCrory), Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), Marguerite Gachet (Saoirse Ronan) and Doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn) – the people that Vincent met at certain points of his life. Loving Vincent is not your typical biographical film; it is also a story of Arman Roulin’s investigation into the death of van Gogh; a story that might leave some viewers puzzled about the circumstances of the painter’s death.
The audience experiences the tale of Vincent van Gogh from the perspective of Armand Roulin, the son of Joseph Roulin, a famous postman and the artist’s friend. After the death of Vincent, Joseph is asked to deliver the painter’s last letter, addressed to his beloved brother Theo van Gogh. As Joseph is not able to do so, he asks his son to take on the task of handing over the artist’s final message. The young man travels to Paris, only to find out that Theo passed away six months after his brother. From this point onward, the viewer travels through time to learn more about Vincent and the state of affairs that led to his death, as Armand tries to uncover the mystery of Vincent’s passing – after talking to the people who met the painter, he does not believe that the man committed suicide.
Throughout the film, we also learn more about the artist’s loneliness, psychological problems and life in which – for some reason – he was not fated to meet with success and fame. Vincent van Gogh struggled throughout his existence to be accepted, not only by his parents, but also by a society. Nevertheless, after his death, he achieved the highest praise one could ever dream of; Vincent has been an inspiration to thousands of artists around the world, his art sold for millions of dollars and there is even a museum named after him, where his paintings have also been put on display.
Loving Vincent has a sublime way of drawing the incredible portrait of Vincent van Gogh. The images ‘move’ with an artistic grace and they mesmerise the viewer for the entire duration of the film. The editing by Dorota herself and by Justyna Wierszynska is seamless; the ladies put a truly brilliant narrative together and turned it into an engaging and entertaining final product. Even the perpetually busy Clint Mansell couldn’t resist composing the score for Loving Vincent – just by looking at Mansell’s previous accomplishments, I knew that his score would not disappoint. There is no doubt that the team behind the film has created a fine work of art; it is a pièce de résistance of animation.
Written by Maggie Gogler
All photos © Loving Vincent