In his eight years as a painter, Vincent Van Gogh painted over 800 works of art. While he only sold one painting in his lifetime, Van Gogh’s innovative aesthetic and manipulation of form has cemented him as one of the world’s greatest artists and the Father of Expressionism. Van Gogh’s work is all at once imaginative, dynamic, emotional and mysterious, and in effect, his distinct landscapes and portraits hint at stories beyond the canvas. In a breathtaking and awe-inspiring effort to explore these stories, “Loving Vincent” combines oil paint animation with cinematic storytelling to pay homage to Van Gogh’s life and work.
“Loving Vincent” is the first feature length film to use oil paint animation. As the film displays in its opening text, every shot is painstakingly hand painted by a team of over 100 artists. These are not still frames or backgrounds –– the artists behind “Loving Vincent” replicated Van Gogh’s style and combined it with computer animation to make his paintings come alive with movement. It’s difficult to describe the animation effects through words, because the scenes are so starkly visual; the film’s opening sequence is a rhythmic journey into Van Gogh’s quintessential ‘Starry Night’ that launches you straight into this captivating realm inside Van Gogh’s artwork.
Every scene and character in “Loving Vincent” is inspired by Van Gogh’s actual work, and the narrative moves through the landscapes and portraits of his paintings. Each voice actor resembles their matching Van Gogh painting, and the film’s artists painted the characters in the film to resemble their voice actors. The story takes place a year after Van Gogh’s act of suicide, and centers around Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth, “Jupiter Ascending”), the son of the postmaster (Chris O’Dowd, “Mascots”), who is tasked with delivering a letter from the late Van Gogh to his brother Theo (Cezary Lukaszewicz, “Crossroads Café”). The journey takes Armand to the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise, where Armand interacts with the townspeople to try to piece together what happened on the day of Van Gogh’s unexpected death.
“Loving Vincent” works as a detective crime narrative in which Armand collects testimonies from the villagers close to Van Gogh and explores inconsistencies in village gossip. The cast of characters features great voice acting by Helen McCrory (“Peaky Blinders”), Aidan Turner (“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”), Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”), Jerome Flynn (“Game of Thrones”) and Eleanor Thompson (“Alleycats”), among others. While staying true to style, the animation is incredibly lifelike, making each character expressive and distinct in their personality. A vibrant score by Clint Mansell (“Black Swan”) beautifully undercurrents the beauty of the rural landscape and the emotions of each character.
The narrative pacing is well done, seamlessly switching between moments of contemplation, reminiscence and action. One of the most incredible parts of the film is its artistic cinematography; the stylistic use of transitions, editing and angles done through oil paintings is awe-inspiring and insanely impressive. There is one unforgettable shot where Armand washes his hands in a bowl of water, and the movement of the water is intricately animated with oil painting to look both real and artistic. It’s unbelievable.
Even writing about this film is overwhelming because of how good it is. Each scene flickers with movement that brings to life Van Gogh’s artwork in a display of pure artistry. The only drawback to this film is that it is sometimes too beautiful that it distracts from the story. Lovers of Van Gogh will have an amazing time spotting his famous works and deep cuts that appear in the film both overtly and subtly. “Loving Vincent” expertly combines narrative storytelling, artistic cinematography and breathtaking animation that sets a new bar for future animators.
In anticipation of “Loving Vincent,” Daily Film writers revisited previous cinematic represetations of the artist’s life, “Vincent and Theo” and “Lust for Life.”