Film review | Vincent in the frame

Loving Vincent delves into the truth about Vincent van Gogh’s death. Was it suicide or murder?

CAPTIVATING: The life and death of artist Vincent Van Gogh has intrigued art lovers almost as much as his stunningly orignal paintings.

CAPTIVATING: The life and death of artist Vincent Van Gogh has intrigued art lovers almost as much as his stunningly orignal paintings.

The film is set one year after Van Gogh’s death. The postmaster, Roulin, in the town of Arles, where Van Gogh spent a year painting some of his best-known masterpieces, is determined to deliver posthumously a letter that Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo.

Because Roulin is unable to leave Arles, he enlists his son, Armand to go to Paris and deliver the letter.

What seems like a straightforward task becomes an exploration of the reasons behind Van Gogh’s death.

Armand becomes a detective as he meets with numerous people who knew and were close to Vincent, all in an attempt to understand what happened to him. Armand mixes his conversations with copious amounts of wine and plenty of bar room brawling. He is not the most reliable investigator.

Ultimately, Theo’s letter becomes a method of searching through the various stories and perspectives regarding who met Vincent, how they were connected, and the nature of their relationship with Van Gogh. The truth becomes smeared.

The film becomes less an investigation into the famous artist’s death and more an attempt to understand the man, his life and the influences that shaped his inspiration and the deep despair he felt.

Loving Vincent’s visual style will have an immediate impact on you. Watching the special techniques employed by the director, an extension of the animation process called rotoscoping – where a filmed image is converted into drawn frames giving it the appearance of an animated film – the audience is side-tracked into watching minute details in frames and scenes to work out how this was done. 

The film was first shot as a live-action film and then each frame was re-painted by artists in the style of Van Gogh’s paintings, with bold, thick brush strokes. Each one of the 65,000 frames in the film is, in effect, an oil painting.

As we change from one scene to the next, the approach by different artists employed to construct the film is evident.

There is no doubt that the film’s style is a stunning feat and impressive to watch. Whether it adds a new dimension to the substance of the film is debatable. If you’re not a fan of van Gogh’s painting style then you will find it challenging, because, in essence, the entire film is like a Van Gogh painting that comes to life.

Loving Vincent poses questions about whether a film’s style overshadows the substance of the content and how art triumphs over meaning.

The manner of Van Gogh’s death is intriguing and the manner of the director’s approach is both a pleasant distraction and a monumental achievement.