Loving Vincent opens in 1891, in France, one year after the death of Vincent van Gogh at age 37. Joseph Roulin, a postman and friend of Vincent, is in possession of Vincent’s final letter to his dear brother Theo, which the postal service has deemed undeliverable. Roulin convinces his son Armand to locate Theo in the Paris countryside of Auvers, and deliver the letter by hand. But when Armand learns that Theo has died, his mission evolves into an investigation into the life and death of Vincent van Gogh, who would become one of the world’s most celebrated and misunderstood artists.
Loving Vincent is an extraordinary animated film, as much for its fascinating storyline as for its dazzling presentation that’s a feast for the eyes and soul. To honor the legendary Dutch impressionist, Polish artist and filmmaker Dorota Kobiela and her British husband Hugh Welchman began the filming process with a live-action shoot featuring Saoirse Ronan, Chris O’Dowd, and Douglas Booth. And then 100 artists hand-painted the film’s 65,000 frames, capturing van Gogh’s magical style. Every scene reverberates in his radiant hues, anointed with his bold, textured strokes, those wavy liquid lines, and his childlike spirit of fantasy. Maxing out the visuals, the film incorporates many of the artist’s iconic works, like those of Café Terrace, the wheat fields and crows, his self-portrait, and his humble little bedroom at Arles. Loving Vincent is as much a work of art as van Gogh’s 800-plus paintings, which he completed within a single decade.
Van Gogh’s history emerges through Armand’s conversations with the people who knew him, including innkeepers, the boatman at the river Oise, and Vincent’s friend Dr. Gachet, an aspiring artist who envied Vincent’s talent. The movie draws its content from a collection of Vincent’s letters, which he always signed, “Your Loving Vincent.” And these fine details create an intimacy that makes us feel like we know this man personally. Vincent the person breaks our hearts, while Vincent the artist exhilarates us with the force of his imagination that his canvas can barely contain.
Van Gogh is famously remembered for his melancholy. History insists he was bipolar, schizophrenic, or insane. That he severed his ear as a gift to an admirer. And that he committed suicide. But since his death, researchers such as Pulitzer Prize-winning biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith have questioned his legacy. Their profile Van Gogh: The Life goes in search of the facts about his upbringing, his relationships, his state of mind, and the circumstances of his death, and arrives at some different conclusions. Loving Vincent is on this same mission to set the story straight, or at least prove that much of what we believe about the artist is based on hearsay rather than investigation. This film offers insight into his life while making us fall in love with his art all over again.
Loving Vincent has been nominated by the Academy for Best Animated Feature Film. Oscar or not, this film is the cinematic gem of 2017. If you miss it in theaters, stream it on a big screen. And fall in love. A+
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