After creating more than 860 oil paintings over the span of eight years, Vincent van Gogh died an unknown painter from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. To even begin to unwrap the many layers of this complex artist is difficult. To make a film about his death is nearly impossible.
Yet, Loving Vincent somehow manages to do just that; the film is simply a stunning homage to van Gogh, one of the world’s most famous artists. To do this, directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman depict the life of the artist in the only way possible, through his paintings.
Loving Vincent is the world’s first fully painted feature film, with over 65,000 frames painted over 1,000 canvases and is, without a doubt, a startling achievement.
While each equally carries a distinctive sense of artistic identity, the oil canvases themselves seem to breathe true life into the scenes, mimicking the soft, vivid brush strokes of van Gogh.
The film doesn’t simply animate the works of van Gogh. Instead, Loving Vincent goes out of its way to weave a truly fascinating rendition of his life, turning the spotlight away from solely the artist and onto the people and places that contributed so much to his art.
Viewers meet the titular character from van Gogh’s painting Portrait of Doctor Gachet, and the doctor’s housekeeper from Peasant Woman Against a Background of Wheat. The man from van Gogh’s painting Le Zouave joins them in the film among many, many others.
However, the exceptional technical ability of the film and clever incorporations of van Gogh’s actual paintings aren’t the main draw.
It was how Loving Vincent managed to make the life of a then-unknown artist much less enigmatic and more human.
Although the film focuses mainly on the tragic death of the artist, viewers nevertheless can’t help but be mesmerized by the vibrancy and turmoil of van Gogh’s life.
Viewers aren’t only able to witness the story of his success, but are also introduced to the people who knew and cared for him throughout his life. Meeting the countless individuals that influenced van Gogh’s paintings compels viewers to realize just how important the people around them are.
Loving Vincent allows people to see the inner workings of this master painter’s mind, and attempts to bring a sense of understanding to his eccentric actions; whether that be his self-admission into an asylum or the cutting off of his ear.
Most importantly, Loving Vincent doesn’t idealize the “tormented artist,” an image that as a society we easily have come to accept.
The film also reiterates that we can’t discount an individual’s anguish and agony simply because they were an artist. The film shows the bitter details of van Gogh’s life – though, granted, not in their entirety.
He believed that in the eyes of most people, he was “a nobody, a non-entity, an unpleasant person. Someone who has not, and never will have, any position in society, in short the lowest of the low.” He worried he would die an average man.
He was desperately clinging onto the last bits of his mind, trapped between euphoric highs and difficult lows. In this mental turmoil, he had no other choice but to paint. To express his messy, twisted thoughts with oil paints and a brush when virtually everyone around him had turned their backs on who they thought was the village madman.
The film’s revolutionary style, produced solely through paintings, allows it to take this new angle on an old story.
In his own words, “we cannot speak other than by our paintings.”
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