Loving Vincent

in 41st Annecy International Animation Film Festival

by Yael Shuv

Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, created with fierce brush strokes, always seem as if they are moving. Well, now they really are. Loving Vincent, described as the first fully painted animated film, aims to capture Van Gogh’s life and death, using his own paintings as storyboards, and weaving them into a detective like narrative.

Theambitious film, that had its world premiere at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, was received enthusiastically by the audience that awarded it with a prolonged standing ovation as well as the Audience Award. Born in the imagination of painter and director DorotaKobiela (who codirected the film with her husband Hugh Welchman), the development of this unique project was funded by the Polish Film Institute. The re-training of 115 professional oil painters to become painting-animators on the film was partially funded through a Kickstarter campaign. The film was shot with actors and green screens, and then each of the film’s 65,000 frames was recreated as an oil painting on canvas, using the same technique as Van Gogh.

The story follows Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), portrayed by Van Gogh in a striking yellow jacket, as he tries to deliver Vincent’s last letter to his brother Theo. After an initial reluctance to fulfillthe assignment given to him by his father the postman (Chris O’Dowd), he develops an interest in Van Gogh’s apparent suicide which left many questions unanswered. Crisscrossing different versions of his last few months, delivered by men and women who knew Van Gogh well enough to have their portraits painted by him, Roulineven starts to believe in the possibility that hewas shot by someone else. But in the end the overly melodramatic plot strands give way to a levelheaded and very moving conclusion.

The actors – among themJerom Flynn as Dr. Gachet, Saoirse Ronan as the doctor’s daughter Marguerite, John Sessions as paint supplier Pere Tanguy, Eleanor Tomlinson as the innkeeper’s daughter Adeline Ravoux and Aiden Turner as a boatman – were chosen partly because of their likeness to the characters in the paintings. Through the process of painting over their filmed performances, the original characters were recreated in the likeness of the actors. The result blurs the lines between the famous actors and the familiar paintings, and now it seems impossible to distinguish between the two. It is an interesting byproduct that reflects on impression and memory

Over the years there have been quite a few films about van Gogh, including Vincente Minnelli’s Lust for Life (1956), Robert Altman’s Vincent & Theo (1990), Maurice Pialat’sVan Gogh (1991), and Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1991) in which the pained artist was intensely portrayed by Martin Scorsese. These films offered different interpretation of the artist’s brief life and troubled psyche and were only partly successful. While Loving Vincent uses the paintings themselves as a spyglasswith which it looks into Van Gogh’s inner world, it also retrieves emotions and bits of information from his letters. An interesting choice was made to not include any of his numerous self-portraits, and Van Gogh is only glimpsed in the black and white flashbacks, which are the weaker part of the film. This absence gives immense power to the final image, which was chosen for the film’s poster.