Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman’s Loving Vincent was hand-painted (frame by frame) by over 100 artists, and aims to shed light on Vincent Van Gogh’s final days. The writer-directors lead the viewer into a world made of swirly brushstrokes and black and white flashback sequences with a softer appearance. Sometimes objects and characters appear to move through proper 3D space, but now and then there is a flat-looking chair, or a table with distorted perspective. These purposely 2D-ified elements are a direct homage to Van Gogh’s signature style. The oil-painted animated frames are not mimicry, but rather a re-imagination of the artist’s approach. As such, they are impressive and move in a way that embellishes without altering what the general public knows to be Van Gogh’s aesthetic. However, the downside is the artistic choice to freeze some parts of the picture plane while others boil, as in traditional 2D animation. Before the advent of computerized animation techniques, boiling referred to the effervescing strokes or outlines even apparent in still objects. This technique was seen to ‘give life’ to old-school animation, even when incorporating so-called inanimate elements.
This unusual creative decision aside, the paintings themselves are lovely. Once the spectator moves past the novelty of the artwork to become absorbed in the story, this is a quiet murder mystery with many flashback sequences. A year after the Dutch painter’s death, the truth unfurls at a calm pace, unlike a cop movie that might lean on action sequences and fast-paced editing. The information is not sought by the authorities but by an everyman, and the ‘detective’ mood is achieved through storytelling and lighting.
The global theme is one of he said, she said, rumors, and ego-fueled arguments in small towns. Everyone has conflicting opinions of what really happened to poor Vincent. A troubled childhood, insanity, betrayal. Yet on the flipside, we learn that many people who knew the artist had different concepts of sanity and interpersonal relationships. Though a final verdict is implied, the answers remain open-ended. A thought-provoking essay about events nobody can really ever be sure about, and about a man that nobody seemed able to understand.
“They’re not listening still. Perhaps they never will” sings Lianne Le Havas on the Clint Mansell produced version of Don McLean’s Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) which accompanies the ending credits. Well said.
*** For Montrealers, Loving Vincent opens on October 27th, 2017 in English at Cineplex Forum, with French subtitles at Cinema du Parc, and dubbed in French at Quartier Latin and Cinema Beaubien.