Loving Vincent

For my birthday earlier this month, I chose to go and see the film Loving Vincent. I knew a little bit about the film, and my reasoning for choosing to see it was I knew it would be visually stunning. Every frame of Loving Vincent is a hand-painted oil-painting in the style of Vincent van Gogh. Every single frame. That’s over 65,000 paintings.

I’d give the film a 7.5/10. The story didn’t quite resolve itself enough for me and I wanted to know more at the end, but it was such a fascinating experience to witness the actors’ performances turned into van Gogh style paintings. The great thing about this film is that it also made me question what the merging of artforms meant for art, film and everything in between.

Style Appropriation

One of the things that came up while talking about the film was the imitation and appropriation of van Gogh’s style. My mum questioned if van Gogh would have loved or hated what a team of professional artists had done to his work.  She reasoned that van Gogh would have thought it odd that a team of imitators copied his style and turned it into an animation. 

My aunt, on the other hand, thought van Gogh would have loved to see his paintings brought to life, his story told and his legacy continued. She thought that telling his story in the style of his artwork was the only appropriate way to do it, as it enabled the audience to see the world through his eyes.

eleanor tomlinson
Eleanor Tomlinson as Adeline Ravoux

Performance vs Animation

While watching the film, the most difficult thing to adjust to was seeing actors’ faces and performances translated into a painting. There were two forces at play here; the actor and the painter. In some way, I felt both were slightly compromised because of the formatting. The layer of paint onto the actors’ performances was like a semi-translucent mask that had been placed over the screen. You could still understand the actors performances, but they were slightly muted. I think there are so many nuances in the human face and eyes, that perhaps not even the most skilled of artists can convey these tiny subtleties. That being said, it was still an interesting experience to see an animation, painting and actor hybrid come to life on screen.

douglas booth
Douglas Booth as Armand Roulin

Vincent’s Artworks

One of my favourite parts about the film was the incorporation of Vincent’s original artworks. For example, when we first meet Marguerite Gachet (Saoirse Ronan), she is seated at the piano in a pale dress, just as van Gogh painted her in “Marguerite Gachet at the Piano” (1890). Another example of this is when the character of Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn) is interviewed by Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth). The scene opens with Dr. Gachet in the exact position he is painted in, in “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” (1890).

The insertion of these tableaus was really extraordinary. It injected more of Vincent van Gogh’s style and magic into the paintings. The only drawback was that the actors’ faces were distinctly different from those in the paintings. However, if not presented side-by-side, the likeness was passable, and this slight compromise was worth it in the long run.

marguerite saoirse
Left: Saoirse Ronan in character as Marguerite Gachet. Middle: Vincent van Gogh’s artwork ‘Marguerite Gachet at the Piano’ (1890). Right: Saoirse Ronan as Marguerite Gachet in the finished film.

The Question of Art

The fascinating thing about this film is that it is a pioneer in its field. Being the first ever fully painted feature film, it is the first of its kind to make an explicit connection between art and film. Not to mention the merging of new technology and a classical art form. So does this film qualify to sit in the Louvre, or does it qualify to be nominated for an Academy Award? I think the answer is perhaps both and neither. Perhaps it means this film is in a category of its own, which is what makes it so wondrous.

All images are stills from the film Loving Vincent

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6 Comments

  1. You’ve had a directors approach to this, what happened though was (albeit wondrous as a whole) was a decline of Vincent’ style towards academic approach which were blended together almost perfectly especially with the portraiture as if saying “this is the best we can get to that genius”, It was another breakthrough for Van Gogh, posthumously, many of the frames were “correct” and dilutable where Van Gogh’ artwork is fluid to the point where you can’t compress the form. Thank god Van Gogh didn’t paint this entire movie because it would have been to much, your eyes would be able to close.
    I think Van Gogh would have thought “why wasn’t i allowed to paint the darn thing” and then celebrated because someone did. The thing they’ve accomplished is messing around with the passage of time as if it was still as if frames by frames was a single painting, as if a painting has a duration which a painting doesn’t have.
    Merging of artforms means a more direct suggestion of existence which is the opposite of abstraction. As for subtleties both an actor and a painter need to convey the moment through that moment, live the state, a portrait painter needs to see and not to look when painting an expression, same as the actor needs to feel after learning, if I was to exaggerate i would say that the script is information and so is the painting itself, how that information is conveyed is where the continuation of the artistry resides. What you said was true, not even Rembrandt (a master draftsman) could portray emotion and look in someones eye to it’s full extent, Modigliani (one of the rulers of linear drawings) rarely painted the eyes, he said “i will paint your eyes when i know your soul”.
    Have they portrayed Vincent Van Gogh in the movie, yes with the “this is what i think” (professionally ofc and emotionally) style, have they portrayed Van Gogh’ soul, maybe, that is in his paintings.

    Like

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