Over 6 months ago, I first discovered this Loving Vincent trailer on Facebook (2.8 million views). As a painter and art historian, I was immediately hooked by the concept of the first full length animated hand-painted movie. Loving Vincent used over 65,000 paintings by 100 artists, all working in the style of Van Gogh with his bold technique using thick impasto brushwork and vivid colors.
My expectations were pretty high, and a part of me wondered if I was setting myself up for disappointment. It turns out my expectations were different (not better or worse), but I was definitely not disappointed.
Vincent Van Gogh was a prodigious letter writer to his brother, the Paris art dealer, Theo Van Gogh, who supported him financially and emotionally. The plot revolves around the late delivery of one of these letters by the postmaster, Joseph Moulin, and his son, Armaud, who he sends to Paris for the delivery. Along the way, Armaud raises questions about Van Gogh’s death, building some suspense along the way. Coming into the movie, I didn’t expect any plot, just a rehash of the letters.
Spoiler alert: I had been taught in school that Vincent definitely committed suicide, and never questioned that. Loving Vincent raises the tantalizing possibility that the artist was murdered, and made a strong case for reasonable doubt. After going home and reading some of Vincent’s last anguished letters to Theo – letters that were not incorporated into the movie – I wasn’t as sure. Nonetheless, the thesis is intriguing.
While the story added some unanticipated drama (admittedly not completely resolved), the hero is the unique, creative, innovative execution. In other words, the devil is in the details. And what glorious, active brushwork dominates the screen for the entire 90 minutes! Bravo to all the artists!
Before you see Loving Vincent, I would recommend taking a quick peek at some of Van Gogh late paintings. That way you can recognize them, and fully appreciate all the planning that went into this hand-painted animated movie. Just google Van Gogh’s Auvers paintings.
In the film, we are gradually introduced to a series of Van Gogh portraits which are transformed into living, breathing characters moving within the spaces of Van Gogh’s painted world below, such as Cafe Terrace Place du Forum, Auvers Church, and Wheat Fields – with its animated crows.
Better yet, watch this 6 minute documentary which gives you the behind the scenes view of how this movie masterpiece was produced. We learn about how directors Kobiela and Welchman began by shooting their story as a live-action film with actors in costume again a green background. In this example, we see the live-action shot of Dr. Gachet on the left, Van Gogh’s friend and doctor (painted version is on the right).
Then the paintings were executed and integrated with the live action color footage, often interspersed with black-and-white flashbacks (which was a surprise – and effective!). The documentary also explains how Van Gogh’s vertical paintings had to be adapted to the horizontal screen format. Apparently the artists did that seamlessly because I didn’t even notice.
Loving Vincent is a labor of love. I just wished the producers had slowed down the final credits, when images of the live actors are juxtaposed with Van Gogh’s original portraits and drawings, together with the hand-painted screen versions they inspired – and quotes. I didn’t have time to internalize all the carefully conceived elements that were meticulously presented here.
I guess I’ll just have to go back to see Loving Vincent again – and feel the love.