By Bailey Mount Editor in Chief and Jason Lauckner 22 West Video Chief Executive Producer
Bailey: “Loving Vincent” is a film that is best summed up in its title. Exploring the poignancy of Vincent Van Gogh’s life and the spontaneity of his suicide, the film is a love letter to the troubled artist and presents a biopic as unconventional as its subject.
This is because “Loving Vincent” is the first fully-painted, animated feature film.
Each frame—roughly 65,000 of them—is painted in Van Gogh’s signature style by over 100 artists. The result of a seven-year dream by directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, the film takes place one year after the artist’s suicide and follows a young man (Douglas Booth) as he tries to unravel the mystery surrounding it.
What follows is an art museum that comes to life. The actors of the film, a modest cast with a few known names like Saoirse Ronan and Jerome Flynn, are enchanting in their roles as various portrait subjects. The scenery blends beautifully with the over 130 original Van Gogh paintings featured. It’s an “art” film in the most basic sense of the word.
Jason: In addition to the visuals, the score of the film, composed by Clint Manswell, welcomes you into the world created by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. From the opening credits, Manswell’s score aligns a lot of its orchestrated movements with that of the beautiful transitions in the film, syncing the two. There was only one scene in the film in which it felt that the score paid attention to itself, and even then it didn’t distract from the emotional weight.
Yet, for all of the film’s shining aesthetics, it falls flat in the second half. Up until that point, the story is a pseudo-detective tale, but it quickly devolves into solely appreciating the works of Van Gogh. Which in of itself is not a bad theme to explore, mostly because the film itself is basically a 65,000-frame love letter to him. However, it makes it seem as though the characters and the journey we embark on with the protagonist isn’t as significant as the visuals.
B: But being the first of its kind, “Loving Vincent” can’t be approached like a typical film. Its value lies not in its plot, but in its production. In the end, the characters ultimately don’t matter; they’re supplemental to Van Gogh’s story. They—and the entire story as a whole—exist to paint a picture of the artist, for lack of a better phrase.
The official website even states that “you cannot truly tell Vincent’s story without his paintings, so we needed to bring his paintings to life.” To me, the story wasn’t the point. You wouldn’t focus on the art if it was a film about a writer. You’d focus on the writing. With “Loving Vincent,” the aesthetic eclipses the wandering plot.
J: Although I do think the plot is the weakest part of the movie, it isn’t a bad one. It’s just a smudge on the canvas of a very beautiful movie. The medium by itself carries so much heart and soul that you feel that each one of the oil-painted strokes of an individual frame is one filled with love. So much so that there were moments I audibly sighed and gasped.
With that being said, it heavily disappoints me that, because of the limited release of the film, very few people will go out and see it.
B: Despite being out for over a month now, the film has went largely unnoticed by audiences, bringing in only $5.6 million at the U.S. box office and barely making back its $5.5 million budget.
J: It’s oddly poetic, seeing how Vincent Van Gogh only sold one piece of art in his life.
B: But with any luck, “Loving Vincent” will have better reception in the UK in the upcoming month.
For now, it exists as a beautifully scored and vividly painted masterpiece, only flawed in its absentmindedness—just like the man it was made for.