Paintings have a soul of their own that comes from the soul of the painter.
Vincent van Gogh
For those who truly love and admire the work of the famous painter Vincent van Gogh, the film Loving Vincent will surely offer an unforgettable experience. There could not be a more beautiful and just homage to the well-known father of modern painting. For its filmmakers (Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman) very well understood the fact that art was the way Van Gogh found to connect with the world around him, to communicate with it, understand it, and why not, challenge it. Painting brought a new meaning to his life when he was twenty-eight years old. A deep passion only death would end. A work that captivated him, to the point that the pictorial universe became a mediating element with his most immediate reality, as the creator himself once held: “work often absorbs me in such a way that I think I will always be abstracted and unable of knowing how to get by in the rest of my life too.”1
From its own realization, the film presents an extremely attractive proposal, not free of complexities and hardships on an approximately ten-year long production that culminated in a well-achieved cinematographic work. Loving Vincent is the first animated film painted on oil –a technique also known as painting in motion– in the history of cinema. The original idea of making a short film was employed in a material of around sixty-five thousand animated stills, first filmed with actors, and then painted in oil by a team made up of more than one hundred artists from around the world. All this preceded by a thorough study of the life and work of Van Gogh, his paintings and the many letters he wrote to his brother Theo, who was his dealer, supplier, friend, confidant, in short, his soul mate.
With the mission of unraveling the interstices of the creator’s life and exploring his complex personality, the film goes to his most incarnated testimony: his painting. His characters are no more than those whom Van Gogh immortalized in his masterpieces and the film sets mimic the appearance of the artist’s oil paintings.2 Quite the feat, which resulted in an unprecedented visual experience since it achieves a very realistic recreation of ninety-four original works, including: The Mousmé (1888), Starry Night (1899), Wheat Field with Crows (1990) ), Elderly Man in Sorrow (1890), Portrait of Adeline Ravoux (1890), Portrait of Père Tanguy (1887), The Night Cafe (1888), The Church of Auvers-sur-Oise (1890), Marguerite Gachet on the Piano (1890), The Starry Night of the Rhone (1888) and Self-portrait (1899).
In this sense, Van Gogh’s own painting becomes the quintessential protagonist of the film. His superb brushwork, beautiful textures, charming ochers, original landscapes, his curious characters, his starry nights and golden days, come to life in a unique way. And it so happens that the moving image dazzles the viewer in such a way that he is completely seduced. For those of us who know and study the work of the artist through books or catalogs, and have never had the opportunity to stand facing an original it is almost impossible to describe the feeling that such an experience causes. While the eyes are carried away by the moving brushstrokes, the body and hands shake until it is useless to control the impulse to feel the screen, which is responsible for awakening us from the rapture and connect with the plot.
For these reasons, the visual effects of Loving Vincent end up somewhat eclipsing –in some moments– the narrated story, which happens temporarily a year after the death of the creator. And here is an element of fiction: the supposed delivery of the last letter of Van Gogh to Theo, is the trigger of a series of vicissitudes, which lead to Armand Roulin –real character and son of Van Gogh’s postman and personal friend– to Auvers, the last town where the artist resided. Once there, the young man, immersed in a sort of detective search, carries out a series of interviews with the people who lived with him in his last days: Adeline Ravoux, Marguerite Gachet, Dr. Gachet and his maid. Different opinions, and in many cases opposed, lead the story line.
In this way, the plot unfolds through recurrent flashbacks with the aim of clarifying the events that preceded the sudden death of the painter. The remembrances of the characters are the only sequences that are not articulated from his work, being the result of a synthetic drawing that takes advantage of the dramatic attributes of black and white. Suicide or murder? This questioning adds an element of uncertainty and puts into question the assumption that Van Gogh, tormented by the economic and emotional crisis, ended his life with a shot to the chest days after having cut off his own ear.
More than revealing an accurate answer to this question, the film tries to bring new nuances to the myth of Van Gogh, emphasizing, not his madness, but the genius of his person, his love and need for art. Like with any human being some loved him, while others never came to understand his complex personality. The great paradox of this genius was to have only sold a single work his entire life, and then becoming one of the most sought after artists in the world. The great sin of his contemporaries: not having recognized all his artistic merits. However, Loving Vincent, in an act of respect and admiration, hints that his exceptionality does not fall on this fact, but on his ability to bequeath an art aesthetically refreshing and emotionally alive.
He loved his work so greatly, that the impossibility of sustaining himself was a source of depression, but not an obstacle to continue creating. To a great extent, this effort conditioned that, in only eight years, he attained a dizzying artistic maturity, ceasing to be a self-taught neophyte to become one of the great masters of modern painting. Van Gogh managed to capture the light in a very original way and surrendered to his craft regardless of the consequences: “I put my heart into my work, and I lost my mind in the process”,3 he wrote in one of his many letters to Theo.
As the film states, his art is a visual story that reveals another way of being and feeling. Perhaps because he felt too much, loved too much, suffered too much, not from madness, but from incomprehension from many. The fact that his oil paintings were the basis for reconstructing and articulating some events of the artist’s life, is evidence of his close and powerful link with painting. While Loving Vincent, tells both a reliable story and a fable with his paintings, it warns us from start to finish, that Van Gogh was a man who traveled through this world through his art, a human being that without a doubt, needed painting to live.
–Flavia Valladares Más
2. Chromes were also used in the film, which after the shooting were painted and digitally animated.