A loving homage to a beloved painter

Vincent van Gogh’s artistic impact on our world is undeniable. One mention of his name, and images of the swirling yellows and blues of his Starry Night flash before our eyes—seeming to come alive and dance before us. To have a film that repurposes Van Gogh’s enchanting style through moving images of his own art is nothing less than a feast for the senses. As “the world’s first fully painted feature film,” Loving Vincent expertly takes audiences deeper into the artist’s tortured soul and delivers a touching homage to his life.

Directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, <i>Loving Vincent</i> focuses on the days following the alleged suicide of Van Gogh. Instead of taking us directly through the artist’s perspective, the film provides us with a puzzle of separate, yet intertwining vignettes that introduce viewers to numerous figures from his life. There is the postman, Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), to whom the last letter Van Gogh wrote to his brother was left. He then passes it to his son, Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), who becomes our protagonist and lead detective. From here, the story follows the search for not only Vincent’s brother, Theo, but the answer to Van Gogh’s “suicide.”

Most of the film is structured to convince viewers that there is no possible way Van Gogh killed himself, proposing instead that he was murdered. The portrayal of Vincent’s doctor, Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn), as a selfish, indifferent man surrounded by equally indifferent company, leads the audience to assume that he is the murder suspect in question. But the film does an excellent job of avoiding predictability. Dr. Gachet’s final meeting with Armand at the conclusion of the film reveals his role as a red herring, tying a poetically tragic bow over all the separate pieces of the puzzle of Vincent’s life.

Beyond the mystery of Vincent’s death, perhaps the most enticing part of the film was the usage of flashbacks and how deeply they seemed to connect to the overarching legacy of the artist. As Loving Vincent progresses, there are many instances of characters providing anecdotes concerning Van Gogh’s behaviour during the days leading to his death. Painted solely in shades of grey, black, and white, these moments deviate stylistically from the rest of the film and the colourful works by Van Gogh. My immediate thought was, why? Why choose to reject something so crucial to the foundation of the movie, especially in segments of the film where Van Gogh is depicted alive and dealing with both the good and devastating parts of his life? Were these experiences not crucial to his paintings? Only towards the conclusion of the film did the answer become increasingly clear to me—Van Gogh never got to see the rise of his work’s popularity and his fame was largely posthumous. The choice to depict the life of Van Gogh in this way genuinely mirrors the development of his legacy over time and leaves you with even more to take away from the film than expected.

Brimming with emotion,  Loving Vincent eventually comes to ask the question, “Will people appreciate what he did?” The answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” With a production spanning six years and a crew of over 100 artists, the creation of this film exists as proof. It is not only a cinematically stunning homage to Vincent van Gogh, riddled with references to his famed paintings, but authentically provides audiences with a way to truly understand and empathize with the tragic end of a cherished artist