Review: 'Loving Vincent' brings van Gogh's paintings to life

Thursday, 12 October 2017, 10:22:01 PM. It's bill as the world's first all-painted animated feature... but the storytelling is a bit paint-by-numbers

Animation nerds — and yes, of course there are such people — may be jazzed at the release of “Loving Vincent,” the first feature film made entirely of paintings.

The (sort of) biopic about Vincent van Gogh, from Europe-based BreakThru Films, comprises 65,000 frames hand-painted by a team of 125 artists, re-creating the style and many of the masterworks of the Dutch painter famed for prefiguring modern art … and for disfiguring himself by amputating his own ear, then committing suicide.

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Visually you can certainly call the film a breakthrough. Gooey gobs of oil paint flicker and flash with every movement onscreen, rendering literal the vibrational impact of van Gogh’s post-Impressionist brushstrokes. But because writer-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman used a rotoscope technique — basing the paintings on live-action footage shot with actors — the stylized images carry a natural human warmth.

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"Loving Vincent" comprises 65,000 frames hand-painted by a team of 125 artists. (Photo: Good Deed Entertainment)

There is nothing innovative about the storytelling, though. It’s a basic mystery. A restless young Frenchman named Armand (Douglas Booth, with a London accent) is asked by his father to deliver a letter by the recently deceased painter to his brother. When Armand discovers that the brother, too, has died, he journeys on to the village of Auvers-sur-Oise to meet Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn), who cared for van Gogh in the weeks after the ear-slicing incident.

Increasingly curious about the painter’s death, Armand talks with a friendly innkeeper, a garrulous boatman and Gachet’s daughter and housekeeper, who all give conflicting accounts rendered in black-and-white flashbacks. Eventually the investigation veers into Oliver Stone territory. Without getting into details, let’s just say they might as well have titled the film “VVG.”

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Aidan Turner plays the Boatman in "Loving Vincent," a film that recreates the paintings of Vincent van Gogh using actors. (Photo: Mongrel Media)

The gorgeous animation alone makes “Loving Vincent” worth the price of admission. And the narrative, if a bit paint-by-numbers, is interesting enough. But since the subject of the film (played by Robert Gulaczyk) exists only as memories, the result is a character sketch that falls short of a full portrait. Regardless of how he died, van Gogh’s character, and the character of his genius, remain a mystery.

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‘Loving Vincent,’ 3.5 stars

Directors: Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman.

Cast: Douglas Booth, Robert Gulaczyk, Saoirse Ronan, Aidan Turner.

Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violence, sexual material and smoking.

Note: At Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square.


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