Vincent Van Gogh is one of the world’s most well-known and influential artists to have ever lived. What’s remarkable about his work is that his two thousand or more paintings, drawings and sketches were completed in under a decade and without any formal training. It’s as if the makers of Loving Vincent have tried to illustrate the spirit of the artist, in creating over 65,000 paintings in Van Gogh style over a seven-year period. The directorial duo of Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman enlisted a team of 125 trained oil painters to recreate each frame that had been filmed beforehand in live action. Yet, the film is equally mesmerizing and inharmonious.
The plot takes place a year after Vincent Van Gogh’s death. It follows Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) who is a subject Van Gogh painted, as are the majority of characters in this film. When asked by his father Postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd) to deliver Van Gogh’s last letter to his brother Theo, Armand reluctantly agrees as he was not fond of the artist. However, he makes his way to Paris and meets Pere Tanguy (John Sessions) in what is a beautifully crafted scene, only to be informed Theo shortly died after Vincent. Armand is told he should travel to Auvers-sur-Oise and speak with Doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn), who cared for Vincent Van Gogh in the last few weeks of his life. The film then becomes a murder mystery of sorts as Armand meets many more of Van Gogh’s subjects and begins to question how he died.
The film’s score is provided by composer Clint Mansell and adds to the atmosphere of suspense and interest into the mystery surrounding Van Gogh’s death; it also assists in driving the plot forward. The story does generate intrigue and is entertaining but it also seems a little lightweight and wouldn’t be out-of-place in a TV detective drama. Where it leads does give some answers, but it is also inconclusive and its closing moments feel hurried.
The artwork and animation are hypnotic at times particularly in the recreation of The Starry Night. With each character Armand meets, stories of Vincent Van Gogh are told in black and white-painted flashbacks, which is a novel use of a traditional cinematic device. At other times, movement of the paintings is jarring and the actor’s performances also become a little too obvious that they were filmed in live action first, and this spoils the effect of the film. Despite this, some of the performances by the supporting cast are good especially from Eleanor Tomlinson as Adeline Ravoux and Saoirse Ronan as Marguerite Gachet though Booth’s initial apathetic nature as Armand makes it difficult for an audience to follow him on his journey and engage with the story.
Audiences may exit theaters wanting to know more about the death of this celebrated artist as I did but they may also question what the point of this feature is. With the focus driven on uncovering the mystery encompassing Van Gogh’s death, we need to understand why certain characters care about him so much and why an audience should. Even though Loving Vincent has charming artwork and is an enjoyable film, it is unable to create a lasting impression and will likely not be remembered long after its theatrical run.