Writer Aldous Huxley once brazenly described the cost of an artist’s life in these words – “Perhaps it’s good for one to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he’s happy ? Would he ever want to do anything ? What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life ?” For people to see the greatness in his creations, an artist must forever be consumed by the fire of his imagination. Van Gogh’s name is eponymous to art. He was not merely a painter, but an auteur who left his indelible mark on the world of Impressionism. Impressionism augurs well with artwork that seemingly portrays an artist’s surroundings – the places, the people and the things. However, its counterpart Expressionism besets the artist to look inward and spill out his thoughts on canvas. One of the most recognized works of Gogh Starry Night is a work of post-impressionism. Painted in 1889 in oil-medium, it portrays an imaginative vista from the east-facing window of the asylum room in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence where Gogh had admitted himself into. Although it may be construed as a literal representation, several researchers believe that Starry Night was a portrayal of his struggle with insanity and isolation. Until the time of his death, Vincent Van Gogh remained a disturbed and extremely emotional personality, and that was the cost of his art.
Written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, Loving Vincent is a living, breathing homage to the man who pioneered the expressionist movement. Instead of using conventional methods of film-making, Kobiela and Welchman undertake an ambitious project which involves a 100 artists, specializing in Van Gogh’s style. In an unprecedented form of story-telling, every single frame in the screenplay is a hand-painted scene. Pause the playback at any moment and you would be able to discern the intricate brush-strokes that went into crafting each character and setting. The narrative begins a year after Van Gogh’s apparent suicide. Postman Joseph Roulin, who was a long-time family friend of the Van Goghs, receives a final letter that Vincent had sent for his brother Theo. He convinces his son Armand to fulfill a dead man’s final wish and deliver the letter to Theo in Paris. As Armand reaches Paris, he meets Père Tanguy, a popular art-supplier, who sold wares to Theo which were then sent to Vincent. Tanguy narrates the tragic story of Theo’s break-down after his beloved brother’s death and his own passing just six months later. Armand is torn between the wild reputation that he had known of Van Gogh back home and the love that his family seemed to have for him. He becomes curious as to what had led to Vincent’s suicide. Tanguy suggests that he meet Dr. Gachet who had also been very close to the Van Goghs. Hereon, Armand sets out on a journey to find the truth behind the great man’s demise. This solemn tryst of his also becomes a journey of discovery through which we get to know the untold story of the reclusive artist, his methods, and his motivations.
Loving Vincent is a fluid, poetic work of art where scenes dissolve into one another to reveal yet another scene. The animation has been stitched together seamlessly from a large array of over 65,000 frames for various aspects of the storyline and the various periods of time it transitions through. Each image that you would see on screen was first filmed with real actors – Robert Gulaczyk as Gogh himself, Douglas Booth as Armand Roulin, Jerome Flynn as Dr. Gachet and Saoirse Ronan as Marguerite Gachet. Using a process called Rotoscopy, artists had to trace-over this motion picture footage adding their own embellishments to make the final post-process look right out of Van Gogh’s sketchbook. Each painted frame is then mounted on a projector called the Rotoscope which gives the film a stop-motion quality.
Kobiela and Welchman’s vision is beautifully realized through Tristan Oliver’s splendid cinematography which brings Van Gogh to life. Loving Vincent would haunt you long after you have watched it through its dreamy imagery and heartfelt story-telling. Regardless of your appreciation of art, you would be inspired by his madness for creativity and the pursuit of genius.