Vincent Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) has died by his own hand a year prior. He has left a letter in the charge of postmaster Julian Roulin (Christopher O’Dowd) to be delivered to his brother but the letter keeps coming back undelivered. Roulin entrusts his son Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) to deliver it directly, he agreed begrudgingly. He travels to met his art material supplier, Pere (John Sessions). Leading him to the town that Vincent took his last breath in. We locate his lodgings and a woman that spent time with him, Adeline Ravoux ( Eleanor Tomlinson). Armand journey shifts as he becomes obsessed with questioning if it was suicide or something more sinister. Speaking to devious doctors, farm workers and church women in a series of interviews. Leading him to a profound conclusion.
Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman ‘Loving Vincent’ marks not only an ambitious concept in execution but a swift and firm reason why Brexit is deeply damaging for the arts. A co-production between the Britain and Poland, it sees the two use the skills of some 125 painters to paint every frame. The old wives or legend or whatever says that a picture tells a thousand words. If that is the case then I guess a painting can tell two thousand and so according to some mental numerical crunching is the following. Loving Vincent is 95 minutes, which is 5700 seconds or 136,800 individual painted frames. Times by two thousand words or 273 million odd words. Far less than my 500 word limited allows.
What can I say? Well Loving Vincent excels in a few key areas. It does so in visual form for instance. No surprise. That the method of using the whole film as a continuing canvas might have felt like being on a conveyor belt of works of art running at 24 frames. This would have jolted the viewer. What you get instead is something else. It does so with the odd addition of Van Gogh work (both well known and obscure) with either mention or with a physical representation of the art. These ‘in-jokes’ as such are for the Van Gogh fan or purist and are subtle enough to please the casual. They are also seamless in their introduction and this helps smooth out, what I suspect would be a complaint of the few.
What Loving Vincent fails at is a few very significant things. Its actors are a various assortment of performances. Some like O’Dowd or Booth, are to caricatures of the period. Stripping down a person to elements from an era peopled with drunks and jolly jokes. It is has a very hard time telling a compelling story and holding narrative. It never loses focus but it surely meanders and makes a mountain out of a well known and not well fleshed out story. In its completion due to this it can feel a little pointless. You see not to spoil it but it wants to be the discourse of detective genre meets revelation meets art piece. However it comes off as needing to have just been about Van Gogh and not his external elements.
This all factored in, it can not be acknowledged that this film is a remarkable achievement nor that it is revolutionary. A point I raised is this a certain Richard Linklater no less did the same with a film called WAKING LIFE. This played on the trascendent visual quality of art. How the mystery of the work can actually improve the discourse via engagement. The issue that Linklater had was to make philosophy not overshadow or be under applied in a compelling narrative. He chose to avoid a natural story and went for episodic treatment. That worked okay enough but still fell. In doing much the same here without the Rotoscope process, it is maybe complimenting the medium more than the art works however.