This is an astonishing, vibrantly alive animated feature about Vincent van Gogh. It is fictional but uses real characters and incidents documented in Van Gogh’s letters.
This film represents the first entirely oil-painted animation feature film in history and has taken almost a decade to make. As written & directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, more than 100 talented artists, mainly from Poland and Greece, hand-painted every single frame, in oils, in the unmistakable style of the film’s celebrated subject, Vincent van Gogh.
At 12 frames per second and with a running time of just over 90 minutes, that’s 65,000 frames in all.
The film lives through van Gogh’s passion and art. A lot of the film is in thrilling colour but the flashbacks are portrayed in black and white which, while clearly augmented by an animator’s brush, are also obviously based on live-action footage. Some of the sequences are almost visual poetry, full of remarkable beauty. There are also striking sequences using shadows and/or reflections.
Ninety four of his paintings are featured in a form very close to the original, and a further thirty one paintings featured either substantially or partially. The detail is amazing – for example there is a cat walking across the bottom of the screen at one point then vanishing.
Sound effects include church bells, the clip clop of horses , startled crows cawing and rising from a field, the clink of a tea cup and so on.
Ochres, golds, cornflower blues, purples and reds resonate in the style of the artist’s most famous works.
Robert Gulaczyk as Vincent van Gogh leads a cast that includes Douglas Booth as Armand Roulin, Chris O’Dowd as Postman Roulin, Helen McCrory as Dr Gachet’s housekeeper and John Sessions as Pere Tanguy, van Gogh’s supplier of art materials. Jerome Flynn as Dr Gachet and the Poldark stars Eleanor Tomlinson and Aidan Turner are also featured.
The story is set in 1891, a year after van Gogh’s death, when Postman Roulin sends his son Armand to Paris to deliver a letter to the artist’s brother Theo. Armand finds that Theo has also died and continues his journey by tracking down various people who have sat for the artist or had other contact with him.
The film then becomes a detective story unearthing and examining the various conflicting accounts given by residents of Auvers-sur-Oise, the village where he suffered his tragic end, that Armand talks to.
In the Paris scenes there are no can cans in Montemarte (although we do see the gatherings with Toulouse-Lautrec, Bernard), no cheerful prostitutes, and there no hint of the rumours that van Gogh perhaps had an affair with the daughter of his physician, Dr Gachet.
Yes, we see Vincent delivering the parcel of his cut off ear to his favourite whore.
The film also analyses the theory that Van Gogh was perhaps murdered by René Secrétan, a local 16 year-old who enjoyed ridiculing the rather reclusive artist.
Armand’s enquiries end up centring around the still-fascinating questions of where van Gogh’s gun came from, why he shot himself in the stomach and what happened to all his painting equipment.
Van Gogh’s paintings as an expression of his tortured soul changed people’s understanding of what art could be. This film brings the great artist’s work richly to life. Try and stay right to the end for the ‘sketchbook’ at the end with the credits, to Don Mclean’s haunting, moving Vincent.
Running time – roughly 90 minutes no interval
LOVING VINCENT screens at selected arthouse cinemas from November 2 2017.