Writers and directors: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman
Cast: Douglas Booth, Chris O’Dowd, John Sessions, Helen McCrory, Aidan Turner, Saoirse Ronan, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk … all appearing as oil paintings by Vincent Van Gogh
91 mins, Poland/UK, 2017
Oil paintings shimmer with Van Goghian light and movement in a visually entrancing re-telling of the Van Gogh story.
I was utterly absorbed by the mix of animation and acting in this film, and thought it was incredibly clever. It is as if the portraits themselves are moving and speaking; trees sway and bend in the wind, stars shine and sparkle in the night-time skies. Most of us are familiar with some at least of these paintings, in reproduction if not on the actual canvas, and here they are – animated!
The film explores the stories that surround Van Gogh’s death: did he shoot himself? On purpose? By accident? Did someone shoot him? Was there a cover-up? Writers and co-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman have structured a narrative using Armand Roulin, the young man in the yellow jacket who was the postman’s son, and of whom there is little or no historical record, as an investigating central character: requested by his father to deliver a final letter from Vincent to his brother Theo, Armand travels to Paris and Auvers and meets the people Van Gogh knew, and painted.
It took me some time to realise that the images, which were painted by hand by a team of 125 Polish artists, are sort of laid over live action film, that is, over real actors acting. It is a bit more noticeable in the black-and-white sections, which have a documentary feel to them, and which are used for backstory and flashbacks. And then I began to recognise some of the actors in, or behind, the animated images: Helen McCrory, John Sessions, handsome Aidan Turner as the handsome boatman. Do the actors resemble the portraits, or do the portraits resemble the actors? Or what? It began to feel a bit surreal. Or hyperreal. But strangely and fittingly Van Goghian.
Not everyone I’ve talked to liked it as much as I did. Yes, the narrative structure (one story after another) was like that of a radio play. But I like radio plays. Yes, the paintings and the live action were, perhaps, neither one thing nor the other. But it was so clever! And shimmeringly beautiful.
My only criticism was the title, which I think is misleading. It suggests the film is about Vincent being loved, but it is taken from the phrase he used to sign off his letters to Theo: ‘ever loving Vincent’. It was Vincent doing the loving.