Director: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman
Screenplay: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Jacek Dehnel
Starring: Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Chris O'Dowd, John Sessions, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aidan Turner
Runtime: 95 Minutes
There are instances in which the feeling that a frame of cinema could literally be framed can be validated by the beauty of cinematography, but Loving Vincent takes such a response to an entirely new level. The world’s first oil pained animated feature, every single frame of this biographical story surrounding the fallout of Vincent van Gogh’s suicide has been painstakingly designed to physically emulate the works of the famous tortured artist.
The result is a staggeringly beautiful exercise in technical filmmaking. The ambition behind a project 7 years in the making – and the faith in the producers, directors, artists and actors that this visceral gamble would work – is daunting, but the work of 125 artists has paid off in a seamless blend of transformative images, and directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman should be applauded for their efforts to help pull this collaborative vision together. The textural pallet of the image when appreciated on the big screen is astounding, every fat brush stroke and colour smeared across the transitioning canvas of nearly 65, 000 individual images.
The inspiration of van Gogh’s vision and expression allows is us to see into the imagination of a genius in a manner that is so respectful. The extensive flashback sequences chronicling his early and later years as a tormented and talented painter are drawn with thinner lines in a hyper-realistic black and white format, while the present is populated with bold striking colours and replications of his paintings; from locations to real life figures, it’s a banquet of replications and reference points for those familiar with his work.
The deflation to the visual feast of imagery comes in the form of a rather underwhelming noir storyline, following Douglas Booth’s Armand Roulin in his quest to deliver a letter, and to decipher the apparently hidden truth behind his suicide. It’s a traditional hardboiled detective narrative presented through the interview structure Citizen Kane, and while it’s fictional it’s hardly the most engaging or interesting story beyond a spotters guide – and its attempts to strain further meaning out of van Gogh’s contemporary presence comes up a little short. Still, it’s a cosmic pleasure to see live action performances from the likes of Booth, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory and Jerome Flynn recreated.
Although a rather simplistic storyline dampens the engagement with the narrative, on a level of pure film-as-art stimulus this is easily one of the most exciting large-scale experiments with the medium in recent memory. Although it could easily be reduced to the level of a selling gimmick, its one hell of a gimmick regardless, and allowing the images to shift before you over Clint Mansell’s most ‘Clint Mansell’ score ever is an experience in itself.