Loving Vincent: A Labor of Love

Loving Vincent is a feature-length film, fully-painted by hand. Sixty-six thousand, nine hundred and sixty frames of pastiche were made as an homage to the legendary artist, Vincent Van Gogh.

Van Gogh’s life story is one that has been immortalized, romanticized and picked apart by avid artists as inspiration. There are a lot of holes in what we know for sure about Van Gogh’s life. He was barely photographed, and his face can only be seen in his numerous self portraits. As someone with bipolar disorder, at a time when it could only be diagnosed as melancholia, Van Gogh struggled throughout his life.

What we do know is that he was a painter. Thought of as a mad man by the people in his town, he was someone who never met the expectations of his family and all of these factors took a toll on him.

Director and writer Dorota Kobiela wanted to combine her love for film and painting. Loving Vincent started as a short animated film that she wanted to paint herself. Eventually she saw the potential for it as a feature-length film and employed 125 artists to work on it with her, making it her feature film debut.

Kobiela wanted to keep the spirit of Van Gogh in the film. She wanted everything painted with little to no compromise and, as a result, the film took seven years to complete. A large group of highly-skilled painters were trained to animate their oil paintings in only three weeks. Actors were filmed with a green screen, and black outlines were made to project onto artist boards. It is a kind of rotoscope that takes an incredible amount of time and because everything is hand-painted.

Scenes used 120 of Van Gogh’s work as reference, but painters eventually had to make backgrounds inspired by his work. Artists tried to reimagine what the world looked like through Van Gogh’s eyes so it could fit their narrative. The movement in the film was made with a combination of live-action, visual effects, computer generated animation and expert oil painters. The complicated brushstrokes that remained faithful to Van Gogh’s style, made the fluid motions and shadows the highlight of this film.

Loving Vincent almost goes into conspiracy theories based on what little is actually known about Van Gogh’s life. The film follows Armand Roulin, the son of the postman Van Gogh was friends with. Roulin is trying to deliver the last letter that Van Gogh wrote for his brother, who could not be found. Roulin’s journey to deliver the letter develops the film into a sense of noir. He investigates Van Gogh’s death and picks up the pieces, trying to make sense of why Van Gogh committed suicide.

Watching Loving Vincent in the theatre is an experience. It is as if you are stepping into a dream, where paintings have souls and come alive. The animation is surreal and incredibly detailed: Each motion fluid, each shadow conforming to the laws of physics, and it is all in paint.

The writing is not as stellar as you’d expect it to be. At times, it felt like Loving Vincent was more about conspiracies instead of it being about Van Gogh’s life. The breathtaking beauty of the film puts those concerns on the back burner. Even each character taken from Van Gogh’s original paintings were, for a moment, living, breathing figures painted with vibrant colors that leap out of the screen.

The most amazing part is the incredible attention to detail that this film greatly benefitted from, and how faithful it stayed to Van Gogh’s style. It portrays Vincent Van Gogh as an outcast, a genius to a handful of people and a madman to the rest of the world. With every brushstroke and every painted frame on the big screen, you will be left in awe because of the blood, sweat and tears it clearly took to make this film a reality. The passion and love for Van Gogh’s art seeps through the screen and strikes the audience from start to finish.

The question we are left with, is Vincent Van Gogh rolling in his grave because of this homage? If Van Gogh was truly the person Loving Vincent painted him to be, the answer would be no. Van Gogh would cry at the fact that his art inspired so many people, enough to make history, and to build this evocative tribute to a man who only wanted to live for his art.

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