Watching Resolution: Loving Vincent (2017)

4. An animated film: Loving Vincent (2017)

List Progress: 7/12

TW: Suicide

It is always fascinating to see a piece of art made out of passion and love. 2017’s Loving Vincent could have been a fairly standard live action biopic, and that was what was originally filmed. But a team of 125 painters then projected that film onto canvas and hand painted each. Individual. Frame. in the style of Vincent Van Gogh. Loving Vincent is the world’s first feature-length painted animated film, and considering that it took six years to complete, it is doubtful that many will follow in its footsteps. But for a film about the life and death of Van Gogh, paintings were the only way to truly immerse the audience in his viewpoint and world. 

One year after Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide, his postman and friend Joseph Roulin comes into possession of an unsent letter from Vincent to his brother Theo. He tasks his son Armand to find Theo and give him this last message from beyond the grave. What starts as a grudging chore spirals into something deeper, as Armand discovers Theo died six months after his brother. The letter no longer serves any purpose, but Armand has now learned enough about the eccentric painter that he needs some closure to the story of his life. He speaks to Vincent’s former doctors, friends, acquaintances, and retraces the path of his last days, searching for something resembling an answer. (The film does posit some interesting theories about Van Gogh’s death, though the art history world seems very divided about the supposed evidence.) But no matter what Armand finds, he is still alive and Vincent and Theo are still dead, and the art and the memories are the only things that remain.

There are so many little nuances that make Loving Vincent shine as a piece of visual art. Flashbacks are rendered in greyscale and a realistic style, while the present is colorful and impressionistic, as if to say that Vincent irrevocably changed the world around him. Specific real Van Gogh paintings are incorporated so fluidly that it feels like the people in them really did come to life and start walking around. And as incredibly time-intensive as the rotoscoping was, it allows the performances of the actors to shine through in a way that traditional animation couldn’t have. The entire film is a delight for the eyes.

The narrative doesn’t quite live up to the presentation, though with a presentation like this, that’s not a grave insult. Armand’s journey does occasionally feel like a video game quest, with him having to reach the next waypoint to get the next bit of NPC dialogue time and time again. If it were live action, this would be a solid and serviceable biopic, but it was never meant to be. The painting is the point and it is what elevates Loving Vincent to a thing of beauty.

Would I Recommend It: Yes.

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