A stunning seminal work, an entire feature film comprised totally of oil paintings, every frame an individual painting. The amount of work that went into “Loving Vincent” is staggering, and the result is visually peerless, breathtakingly gorgeous.
The ambition here is astonishing, as so many years and years and scores of artists put in so much work, and reached for surprisingly dynamic scenes iterating off Van Gogh’s actual paintings. The actual story and cast of the film could be excised and it would still be a tremendous work purely in the visual sense, but the narrative does a good job of following disparate narratives around Van Gogh’s death, and the many different opinions people had on him. For a time the narrative seems to be positing a less-than-historical take on the titular figure, but in a crushing ending, that sense bottoms out and the film anchors itself hard to reality. Painful as that is, it makes the paintings the film goes to such great length to honour all the more meaningful, steeped in the actual muck of life as they were.
Some overly expository dialogue setting up the film’s many flashbacks aside, the premise of the narrative works nicely on its own terms and as a vehicle to spread a story through the visuals of his many paintings. The film stretches like a spiderweb spiralling outside of Van Gogh’s death as a means to explore smaller stories incorporating either real people Van Gogh painted, or characters based upon his paintings. The story is broadly mapped more to the neonoir genre than a biopic structure, surprisingly, but the structure works – keeping Van Gogh himself offscreen played well with the film’s focus on absence and loss, and the entire film obviously resounds with his “character” – his art. The cast do good work, even under all the transformation and reduction that would have gone one between their actual live-action performances, the rotoscoping work and the actual painting, and eventual video editing.
The film takes both Van Gogh’s death and life seriously, and appreciates the man and his art holistically. Perhaps as importantly, it honours all the small details of life Van Gogh captured so well. Four stars, and a straw hat.