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.
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.
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.
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.
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