Loving Vincent: A Beautiful Experiment
Written by Enrique Lopez Oropeza
This is a film that starts by acknowledging over 100 artists that were involved in the literal oil painting of each of its 65,000 frames. Indeed, such a craftsmanship should be recognized and celebrated. This film is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Surely, some independent animated films have attempted something like this in scenes or sequences but never in full length.
Directors Dakota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman have achieved something that hopefully will inspire more artists and filmmakers to push the boundaries of what can be made with this style of movie-making. Extra credit should be given for being able to fund it partially through Kickstarter and also by the Polish Film Institute. It was through the festivals circuit that this film was able to thrive and get a wide distribution as it should have. More work as this must be viewed around the globe.
However, as in most experiments, there are some flaws that almost stopped the final product from thriving beyond the mere invention. Though groundbreaking in its visual aspect, the story and the way it flows from scene to scene makes the rhythm feel stalled at times. At some point it actually makes you think that this could be better fitted in a series of short films.
The story is about Douglas Booth’s character who is trying to deliver a letter to the Van Gogh family while also trying to uncover the mystery of Vincent’s death. Here lies the basic story. Some turns and twists happen throughout, yet they feel added just for the sake of adding more suspense. A big problem lies in the main character’s lack of depth or personality who only marvels at the life and work of the title artist between cigars and monologues. It’s as if he was a physical manifestation of every fanatic of Van Gogh’s work, existing for the main purpose of telling you how great he was.
The main character also tries to function as a form of detective. I use the term “tries” as he clearly really fails to do any exciting detective work, for every secondary character is the one in charge of developing the story and giving important information. The result is a film that feels painfully episodic, jumping from one character’s narration to the next. Whether you know the actual story of what happened during Van Gogh’s final days or not the film invests most of its narrative trying to make a mystery out of it. Again the success of this mystery from time to time succeeds as some vignettes don’t really work and feel empty and soulless. Even with all the movement and color in the frames.
Speaking of color, it’s unexpectedly fun witnessing the “Van Gogh-ization” of the whole cast. It’s quite the feat from the painters to be able to allow the actor’s emotions come through their work. It’s distracting in its formality yet in a surprisingly good way as you look more in detail at the “actor’s faces” for those soft reactions and movements. It’s hypnotizing and psychedelic at times.
In the end that is the saving grace, its rich visual and inventive style. The work of every artist results in a marvelous piece of art that was sort of attempted before in Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly” and “Walking Life” yet in a more baroque and raw manner. Each stroke is felt and gives a certain “Je ne se quoi” that suggests that there’s no better formal manner of conveying this story.
Clint Mansell’s soundtrack is fittingly delicate and contemplative even melancholic. It’s a great companion for most scenes as they never add melodrama or unnecessary tension. In fact, it’s used as a sort of thread that joins the scenes jumping from past to present and from grayscale to color.
This film is bound to be remembered and taught in animation film schools. And for good reason. Each frame drools with the passion and technique of the painter. The decision to hire painters and not traditional animators really succeed, for instead of creative character designs or animation, the effort is put in the color palette and strokes that can be achieved only through oil paint.
This is the work of Vincent Van Gogh’s fanatics who really wanted to create a tribute to an artist that foolishly wasn’t celebrated in his lifetime. There’s no more fitting title for the piece than “Loving Vincent” as sometimes loving something or someone too much can lead to some dangerous misguidance and oversights. Oh, but there’s no denying that such love and passion is something to be admired and treasured.