Loving Vincent (2017)

Review #1,536






THE SCOOP
Director:  Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman
Cast:  Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk, Chris O'Dowd, Saoirse Ronan
Plot:  In a story depicted in oil painted animation, a young man comes to the last hometown of painter Vincent van Gogh to deliver the troubled artist's final letter and ends up investigating his final days there.

Genre:  Animation / Biography 
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Animated Feature.  Won Audience Award (Annecy)
Runtime:  94 mins
Rating:  M18 (passed clean) for mature thematic elements, some violence, sexual material and smoking
International Sales:  Cinema Management Group
Singapore Distributor:  Shaw Organisation

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“Days seem like weeks to me.”

There are so many windows of opportunity to enter this film about one of our greatest painters.  You could be an art historian with a profound appreciation for the legacy of Vincent van Gogh, or you could be a casual lover of animation.  Perhaps you are fascinated by its technique—oil-painting frame-by-frame—which is the first of its kind, at least for a feature film.  Whichever way you enter this film will determine which parts work stronger for you.  This suggests that it is an uneven movie, which I feel so, but the perceived inconsistencies are not to its detriment.  

I think all will agree that Loving Vincent is ultimately an emotional and loving tribute to a great man.  Which is a relief because the fear of painstakingly painting 65,000 frames, and not doing justice to the legacy of its subject could have been a real possibility, which must have caused sleepless nights to co-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, and their army of over 100 painters.  

My first encounter with van Gogh was through Japanese master Akira Kurosawa about ten years ago, whose 1990 film, Dreams, saw a cameo appearance by the legendary Martin Scorsese as the man himself.  And this (sadly) happens to be my only encounter.  So watching Loving Vincent is another opportunity to go deeper, to unravel his life.  

In a quasi-investigative procedural form, the animation traces the mysterious death of the tortured painter in order to find closure.  Likewise, we as audiences also seek closure, though not in a ‘case-closed’ kind of way, but to ask ourselves why van Gogh was an enigma in his time, and still is today.  

The oil-painted style takes a bit of time to get used to as it eschews aesthetical clarity for a more impressionistic look.  Audiences who have been on a diet of only Hollywood animation will certainly find it disconcerting.  Still, despite its initial inertness—the storytelling doesn’t feel involving until conspiracy theories begin to float around—Loving Vincent should interest most fans of animation.  It may be narratively-formulaic, but it is visually galvanising, and contains a typically superb score by Clint Mansell.  

Verdict:  Oil-painted frame-by-frame, this beautiful animated feature tracing the mysterious death of Vincent van Gogh overcomes its initial inertness to become an emotional and loving tribute to one of our greatest painters.  

GRADE: B+







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