By Raphael Beretta
Every so often, there comes the scarce opportunity to witness something truly special. A candidly unique piece of art rarely infiltrates the theater, and even more seldomly does that art permeate the mainstream.
A film like Loving Vincent cannot survive next to blockbuster titans like the latest entries from the MCU or star-studded holiday comedies. It is carefully crafted, passionate, wholly original, and in dire need of support, so that future endeavors in a similar vein can be made possible.
Hugh Welchman took nearly six years to complete the first fully-painted feature film. Every frame of animation is a complete oil canvas reimagining of the works of legendary artist Vincent van Gogh. In total, there are 65,000 frames in the film, and the story was derived from analyzing hundreds of Vincent’s personal letters; this project was a laborious undertaking.
The film employs a technique similar to the rotoscope method: the film was shot with real actors and then painted over frame by frame. Four of the six years of production were dedicated solely to mastering this style. The actors' physical performances were thus captured through the painting process, elevating their participation from voice acting to a tangible presence within the art.
The story is as poignant as the way it is told. Set one year after the death and alleged suicide of van Gogh, his Postman Roulin (Chris O’Dowd) orders his son Armand (Douglas Booth) to deliver a letter Vincent wrote to his brother before he died.
Early on in his journey, Armand discovers Vincent’s brother perished from illness shortly after his own demise. Armand then begins a quest to find out why a man, reportedly “calm and in a normal mood”, would take his own life. He encounters Vincent’s muse (Soairse Ronan) and his psychiatrist Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn), among many other influences in Vincent’s life.
The film is breathtakingly beautiful. When every frame is literally a painting, this comes as no surprise. The artists were able to bring the style of van Gogh to the medium of film gracefully and imaginatively. There are two styles for two stories being told: van Gogh’s classic, colorful “Starry Night” style for Armand’s journey, and a series of more realistic black and white paintings for flashbacks of Vincent’s final days. The “real world” being depicted as the world through Vincent’s eyes was a brilliant decision.
Every brush stroke is felt in this film. The care and effort that was put into being faithful to the artist enhances the emotional power of the story, one of a man struggling with mental illness and purpose in life. His sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, is for his family.
Jerome Flynn (Bronn in HBO’s Game of Thrones) gives a devastating performance of the defeated Dr. Gachet, not only a caretaker of Vincent, but a close friend and loyal admirer. Chris O’Dowd (IT Crowd) was surprisingly effective as the Postman, a source of subtle wisdom throughout the film.
Loving Vincent is one of the most creative premises and personal projects produced in a very long time. Whether it means paying the extra money to support your local independent theater (like Rhinebeck’s Upstate Films) to see it or waiting until the film becomes available for sale online and on Demand, it is unlike anything that has preceded it. It is beautiful, haunting, and inspiring. It surely is a contemporary masterpiece, hopefully it will not be forgotten.
Loving Vincent was released by Altitude Film Distribution on June 12, 2017. It was funded by the Polish Film Institute, with additional funding coming from a Kickstarter campaign. 200 of its paintings are being sold. For more information, visit lovingvincent.com.