“LOVING VINCENT” — 3½ stars — Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk, John Sessions, Aidan Turner, Chris O'Dowd; PG-13 (mature thematic elements, some violence, sexual material and smoking); Broadway
“Loving Vincent” is one of the more remarkable movies you will see in theaters this year, with a particular emphasis on the word “see.”
Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s film is a visual and heartfelt tribute to 19th-century impressionist master Vincent Van Gogh, the tragic artist behind celebrated (and now extremely high-priced) works such as “The Starry Night.” “Loving Vincent” was created by first filming traditional live-action actors against green screens, then having a team of artists hand paint over each individual frame in Van Gogh’s trademark style.
The end result is a striking work of animation that leaves the audience feeling like they are watching a Van Gogh painting come to life. Whether you are a fan or someone who is struggling to remember details from your junior high art history lessons, “Loving Vincent” is a film well worth seeing.
As dazzling as the visuals are — frequently they re-create famous Van Gogh paintings, like "The Night Café" — they are used to tell an actual story. “Loving Vincent” is set a year after Van Gogh’s death in 1890. Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), the son of Van Gogh’s postman, has one last letter that the artist penned to his devoted brother Theo. But when Roulin finds that Theo has died as well, he sets out to meet with all of Van Gogh’s acquaintances to determine the next-best recipient.
Along the way, Roulin returns to the scene of Van Gogh’s death and interviews many of the people the painter knew. Since these people frequently turned up in Van Gogh’s paintings, this device is used to bring many of his portraits to life as we learn about the different people he encountered day to day. Roulin meets Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), the woman who manages the run-down hotel where Van Gogh lived for the last few months of his life. Roulin also interviews a boatman (Aidan Turner).
Roulin spends a considerable amount of time at the home of Doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn), Van Gogh’s physician, and Gachet’s daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan), who may or may not have had a romantic relationship with the painter. Roulin comes to suspect that Van Gogh’s death may not have been a simple suicide, as suggested, and finds confirmation of one conspiracy theory from Mazery (Bill Thomas), another doctor in the village.
The mystery element of the plot feels like a bit of a distraction, but not enough to sway audiences from their focus on “Loving Vincent’s” inspiring visuals. Kobiela and Welchman toggle back and forth from full-color renderings of the artist's trademark impressionist brushstrokes to his sketching style when re-creating flashbacks from the painter’s life.
Chances are, young audiences will struggle to appreciate “Loving Vincent,” but though the film is clearly targeted for adults, it’s tempting to encourage parents to take their kids simply for the educational value of the experience. “Loving Vincent” is a unique and worthwhile film that demonstrates what an artist — or a team of artists — can accomplish when they really set out to do something special. The PG-13 rating feels like a bit of a stretch, frankly, based more on the film’s adult themes — connected mostly to Van Gogh’s suicide — than any objectionable content.
If you appreciate animation, art or innovative filmmaking, “Loving Vincent” should be on your short list this year.
"Loving Vincent” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violence, sexual material and smoking; running time: 94 minutes.