I movie like this comes along once in a lifetime, something this spectacular deserves to be on constant loop in a museum. Loving Vincent is a film about a man trying to piece together the strange series events surrounding the death of Vincent Van Gogh, animated using over 65,000 oil paintings. The film took over 8 years and around 100 artist to make, and the final product is unbelievable. Walking into this film I already knew the story behind this film and I had one major concern before the movie started. I was considered that by around the halfway point my eyes would adjust to the oil painting animation and the film would lose its initial magic. Luckily, every moment of Loving Vincent was just as incredibly as the opening shot, and half the time I couldn’t believe what I was watching. The never before seen visuals are obviously the film’s main draw, but unlike 2013’s Gravity or 2009’s Avatar, Loving Vincent still has plenty of merit if seen outside of the theater.
The film opens up with a man named Armand Roulin, getting drunk late one night at a local bar. His clearly disappointed father finds him and sits him down for a talking to. It’s revealed the Armand’s father, Joseph Roulin, was not only Van Gogh’s personal postman, but good friend. Joseph entrusts his son with a letter written by Vincent to his brother Theo Van Gogh, however even a whole year after Vincent’s death the letter still hasn’t been delivered due to all previous attempts failing. By the request of his father Armand sets out to deliver the letter personally and slowly discovers that their was much more to the late artist’s story than he could have possible imagined. Armand bounces around to several different people who live in the small town where Vincent died and knew him personally. Once more and more people open up to Armand about their experiences with the artist, stories start to conflict and it’s clear someone in the town is lying about the past.
Some have criticized the film for taking place so far after Van Gogh’s death, focusing on the character of Armand and using flashbacks to recount the past, I think it provides a different context to the film. While it was no secret many people saw Van Gogh as psychotic freak when he was alive and now see him as an artistic genius, Loving Vincent shows this shift in perspective did not happen overnight. In fact, Armand’s journey through the life of Van Gogh and his change in attitude toward the painter likely mirrors many individuals evolving perception of Van Gogh during the early 1900s. By focus the story around Armand and not giving Van Gogh 100% of the spotlight, the film has an added layer that many biopics don’t have. Loving Vincent also has the most interesting end credits of any film I’ve ever seen. Not only giving the audience a brief epilogues for each of the main characters, but also showing side by side images of the real life actors that were used as models and their animated counterparts. Providing a great behind the scenes tidbit on how this visual spectacle came to be.
None of the performances stuck out to me as terrible, but Douglas Booth as Armand Roulin, Chris O’Dowd as Joseph Roulin and Robert Gulaczyk as Van Gogh himself were the clear standouts. The ending sequence with Armand and Joseph looking out into the night sky while reading Van Gogh’s last letter to his beloved brother is a bittersweet image that will stick with me for long time and not just because of the gorgeous animation. The cast is a lot larger than I expected from the trailers, and this can actually cause some confusion as an almost overwhelming number of characters are introduced each with their own stories and relations to Van Gogh. The film even contains two female characters that look a little too similar, which was likely done to be more faithful to the real life events, but ends up just making the plot harder to follow at times. So while I definitely enjoyed this adaptation of Van Gogh’s life story, it does pain me to say that the film is not without some major faults.
Loving Vincent as a whole just feels too slow and the moments of truly captivating story are few are far between. The whole film is only an hour and 35 minutes which is definitely on the shorter end of the spectrum in term of movie length, but it certainly feels a lot longer. Some scenes were perfection both in animation and writing, especially the ending, but I just wish the whole kept me that engaged. The story just needed to move faster and while this might have caused the film to fall well below a standard run time for a feature length film, Loving Vincent could have made a truly amazing short film or more preferably, a full length film with just with more story elements like Van Gogh’s childhood or just more information about his fascinating life. This criticism got me wondering if it wasn’t for the beautiful visuals, would this film be receiving any praise at all?
I have struggled with this question for a while before coming to the conclusion that the story, characters and writing were just good enough to make the film work as a whole, with or without the oil paint animation. However, I would be lying if I said this film would get the same amount of attention had it been live action. Walking out of the theater I thought I had just seen one of the best films of the year, and as I’ve sat on it more I realized that the slow pace and occasional boredom had a much bigger effect on my overall enjoyment that I previously thought. This is most likely thanks to the ending, which like I said is by far the most impactful moment in the entire film. All things considered, the visual are the biggest selling point and while that will likely keep this film from becoming a classic, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t immediately seek in out in theaters or at home if you have a nice big TV. Loving Vincent is the most beautiful film I have ever seen, I just wish the story and pacing was as spectacular.