“We cannot speak other than by our paintings.” – Vincent van Gogh
In the tenth episode of the fifth series of the modern reboot of the sci-fi classic show Doctor Who — during the eleventh Doctor’s run — then companion Amy Pond and the Doctor travel back to nineteenth century France to meet famous impressionist Vincent van Gogh. Not only is this episode revered as arguably the most emotional to ever air, it showed a van Gogh that many didn’t know existed: a kind and gentle soul, tragically plagued by sadness and depression.
Throughout the episode, the two accompany Vincent in his day-to-day life in Provence, France. After making friends with the curious artist, they begin to see the world as he does: through deep colours and feelings. They become so affected by his loving nature, that (spoilers) they make an attempt to save his life by taking him with them to the future to a museum dedicated to him and have the curator (Bill Nighy) give his emotional thoughts on the painter. Unfortunately, his death is a fixed point, and his demise unfolds, unchanged.
Fast forward seven years to directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman who achieve a very similar goal — but through much different means — with their singularly unique animated film, Loving Vincent.
Set on canvas by over one hundred painters, every frame on-screen is an oil painting. Every movement, every face, everything is painted. How much more fitting could a tribute be for one of the world’s most instantly recognizable artists? Not only is the unique animation breathtaking, but the cast and story in Loving Vincent are as memorable as they are enthralling.
The film focuses on a young man named Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) — the son of one of Vincent’s most famous portrait subjects, “The Postman Joseph Roulin” (Chris O’Dowd) — and is tasked with delivering the tragic painter’s final, hand-written letter to his late brother Theo’s estate. Along the way, he becomes intrigued by the swirl of mystery and uncertainty surrounding van Gogh’s alleged suicide and interviews the townsfolk in Auvers-sur-Oise about the visionary’s life and relationships with those around him.
Each new setting and character is introduced as Vincent painted them before coming to life in front of our eyes, animated in a way that is more and more remarkable each time it’s done, making it very worthwhile to peruse the artist’s portfolio before sitting down to watch this film.
Throughout his journey for truth, Armand learns that there is much more to life than meets the eye; something van Gogh’s striking painting style has shouted to the world for more than a century. The climax of Loving Vincent is reached when our young guide finally meets the mysterious Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn) and the final moments leading up to Vincent’s death are revealed by the man he was closest to in his last days.
With each recollection of memory, the film takes a jaunt from eye-catching colour to jarring black-and-white, not only creating a contrast for exposition, but one which gives the sense that all the colour was inside the man in life and tragically was released into the world through his death. We’re shown his kindness, his friendships, and the ridicule he endured from the local teens.
In the aforementioned episode of Doctor Who, we’re shown a man and the lives he touched only centuries later. In Loving Vincent, his beautiful life and the love he shared are shown beautifully through his art, just as he meant it to be. Everything he wanted to express in life, he was able to share in death.
Dir: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman
Scr: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Jacek Dehnel
Cast: Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan, Aidan Turner, Jerome Flynn, Chris O’ Dowd, John Sessions
Prd: Sean M. Bobbit, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman
DOP: Tristan Oliver, Lukasz Zal
Music: Clint Mansell
Country: Poland, UK, USA
Runtime: 93 mins