Lend me your ear
Loving Vincent (2017): 7 out of 10: An art film in more ways than one, Loving Vincent is the tale of a postmaster’s son asked by his father to deliver a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo.
Soon this simple task becomes a journey into finding out why Vincent van Gogh committed suicide, or even if he did. What we end up with is a Rashomon style story where everyone in the small provincial village where Vincent died has a different and often conflicting story.
The Good: Let’s start with the six hundred pound oil painting in the room. Loving Vincent has a gimmick, and it is a doozy. Each frame (all 65,000 of them) is hand-painted by a group of 120 painters. The actors are then animated and rotoscoped onto the oil paintings.
Now I know rotoscoped is a scary word. We all remember Ralph Bakshi’s use of rotoscoping for his animated features Wizards (1977) and The Lord of the Rings (1978). Scary times indeed. Loving Vincent’s technique, guided by a bigger budget and forty years of technology improvements, is spot on.
The settings and many of the characters are right out of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, and scenes often start with a classic Van Gogh painting and then have the action seamlessly move on from there. Whether in movies or even video games such gimmicks often lose their effect after viewing for a while. While I got used to the technique in Loving Vincent, it never became unnoticeable.
The Bad: Loving Vincent is a quiet tale that fails a task one can give biography. Would this story be interesting if it happened to someone not famous? The answer here is a solid no. The movie’s story reminds one of a walking simulator rather than a film with our protagonist walking around chatting people up and then going into flashback cutscenes (Done in a different black and white sketch style like that Take on Me A-ha video). We get a decent picture of Vincent in his last days and the people around him, but the central mystery of whether he killed himself or whether someone else shot him doesn’t seem pressing to the characters on the screen let alone the audience watching the film.
As good as the painting technique is, I think it is a smidge of a shame that Loving Vincent is shot in 4:3 full screen. I understand this is an artistic decision that matches the paintings, but I wish there wasn’t so much empty real estate on my television for such a beautiful film.
The Ugly: Look, if you don’t want to spend the coin getting the Don McLean rendition of Vincent, you should be able to find a better cover than the one that Lianne La Havas warbles at the end of this film. It isn’t quite the Baha Men’s version of Crocodile Rock from Crocodile Hunter Collision Course, but still.
In Conclusion: The fascinating part of Loving Vincent for me were the photos at the end of the real people in the movie. Not the actors, mind you, but the actual subjects. Marguerite Gachet, the young nineteen-year-old girl at the center of the mystery, didn’t die till 1949. We think of Vincent Van Gogh as being so long ago, but in reality, it wasn’t. Like the old west in America, it is a time that is in the distant past but still within reach. Or to use the standard measurement. Vincent Van Gogh is to Back to the Future’s Enchantment Under the Sea dance as the Enchantment Under the Sea dance is to us today.