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Film Review: Loving Vincent

By Samson Ng, Front End Developer at Now.

Loving Vincent is the world’s first animated feature film hand-painted frame by frame. It’s a biographical film about Vincent van Gogh, painted in the artist’s style – about a hundred painters across the world worked painstakingly for two years to make this happen. The film is 95-minutes long and each second is made up of 12 paintings. That means 65,000 paintings in total – an area equivalent to London and the island of Manhattan combined. All the scenes in the film are pastiches of van Gogh’s paintings, and all of the characters are the sitters of his portraits. It is a monumental homage paid to one of the most revered figures in the history of Western art, and I’m sure that Van Gogh would have been pretty chuffed had he known about this.

The story is set one year after van Gogh’s mysterious death. (Click link to see the actor compared to van Gogh’s painting) Postmaster Joseph Roulin discovers van Gogh’s unsent letter to his brother Theo and asks his son Armand Roulin to deliver it. Armand then embarks on a journey in search of the rightful recipient, as it turns out that Theo died six months after his brother. Armand then encounters a number of people closest to van Gogh in his final days. Surprisingly they all give conflicting accounts about how he died, giving Armand a mystery to solve.

I was already having goosebumps within the first few seconds of the film, as the swirly patterns in the moon and stars from Starry Night came to life. Each time I saw a pastiche scene of a van Gogh painting that I recognised, I felt the same thrill. The soundtrack is also amazing; it is so moving and gives the already very sad story an extra dimension. Not to mention the theme song, Lianne La Havas’s cover version of Don McLean’s 1971 hit Vincent. I have known this song since childhood, but it wasn’t until I saw this film I realised that the song is all about Vincent. When I listened to the lyrics again carefully, I got emotional – Vincent, for a genius like you, I am sorry that the world had not been a better place for you.

And when no hope was left in sight on that starry starry night
You took your life as lovers often do
But I could have told you Vincent
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you

Although Loving Vincent is such an inspiring film, I do feel that there are things that can be improved. The story happens in southern and central France but the protagonist Armand Roulin speaks in a strong London accent. I couldn’t help but laugh when he had to deliver a “le’er” to van Gogh’s brother. His father, Joseph Roulin, also has an Irish accent. I understand that they had cast the actors based on their resemblance to van Gogh’s portrait sitters, but if they went to the great length of hand-painting 65,000 paintings, is it so difficult to find voice actors with the appropriate accents?

Additionally, the story is only based on the last 70 days of the artist’s life. I would have hoped to learn more about his whole life, such as how he felt alienated in his childhood, how he tried and failed at multiple careers before turning to painting, how he developed his style from the dark and gloomy scenes of peasant life to that of the bright and cheerful world around him with exploding colours. Even the famous story of him cutting off his ear and presenting it to a local prostitute is rushed into just a few minutes of black and white flashback. As this was such an important turning point of van Gogh’s life and had far reaching impact on his mental health and his art, it is a shame that this moment was not given the attention it deserves.

I am not usually a film guy, but this film has moved me. It has reignited my long-lost passion for art history and has sent me going to museums in London and Paris in search of van Gogh’s masterpieces. Only ten days ago, I was standing in awe in front of Starry Night Over the Rhône at Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Earlier this week, I was listening to the tragic story of how he mutilated his ear and painted Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear in the Courtauld Gallery in London. In June, I am planning to see the exhibition Van Gogh and Japan in Amsterdam. The Tate has also announced that they are putting together the exhibition Van Gogh and Britain in 2019, the biggest van Gogh exhibition the UK has ever seen in a decade. Although I was not born in the nineteenth century and did not have a chance to see van Gogh face to face, it is yet not so bad after all.