Loving Vincent – Bringing van Gogh to life
2019-11-04 | By Ann Raben
On the evening of 27 July 1890, a fatally wounded Vincent van Gogh stumbled down a street in the small French town of Auvers-sur-Oise. In the twenty-first century Van Gogh is the most famous artist in the world, but during his short, erratic and tortured life he was virtually unknown. Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s astonishing animated film, Loving Vincent, brings to life van Gogh’s most-loved works to investigate the mystery of how and why he came to be shot.
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together”(Vincent van Gogh)
Loving Vincent is the first ever fully-painted feature film, and the sheer scale of the inspiration and process involved in making this film is awe-inspiring.
For directors Dorota Kobiela, a Polish filmmaker and artist, and her British animator husband Hugh Welchman, the film is clearly a labour of love.
Set against a gorgeous score, the movie is a swirling kaleidoscope of van Gogh’s intense and unique style and vision. Every frame is a masterpiece, with brilliant colours contrasting with softer tones and black and white flashbacks. While art lovers can wryly spot historical references, everyone else can sit back and be enveloped in utter gorgeousness.
Having battled depression all her life, Kobiela drew inspiration from van Gogh’s letters and a “respect for his struggles.” Seeing how he picked himself up from setbacks and used art to bring beauty to the world, she was motivated to combine her two passions, painting and film, to tell his story. As Kobiela began formulating the vision that would become Loving Vincent, Welchman agreed that van Gogh’s story needed to connect intimately to his paintings. So the medium of paint formed the very fabric of their film.
While a painting represents one fixed moment in time, film is fluid and moves through space and time. To combine these two media, Loving Vincent was first shot as live action, with actors including Douglas Booth, Chris O’Dowd and Saoirse Ronan, working on sets to match van Gogh paintings or green screens, before each frame was painstakingly hand-painted in oils.
As van Gogh’s paintings come in different shapes and sizes, the production’s painting design team re-imaged van Gogh’s works to fit within the frame of a cinema screen. Loving Vincent contains 94 paintings very close to their original, and a further 31 paintings are either featured substantially or partially.
To paint each frame individually, 100 artists were recruited from all over the world, and a jaw-dropping 65,000 oil paintings on canvas were created. The frame-by-frame animation technique took over seven years to finish, with each second of the film taking up to 10 days to paint. Loving Vincent is a work of adoration and joy.
“We cannot speak other than by our paintings”(Vincent Van Gogh, 1890)
With a plot that unfolds like a murder-mystery, Loving Vincent is set in 1891 one year after van Gogh’s death. The postmaster, a friend of the late artist, dispatches his son Armand to hand deliver a final letter from van Gogh to his brother Theo. Armand’s important mission takes him to Paris where he discovers that Theo, apparently heartbroken by his brother’s death, has also passed away.
The film explores the nature and circumstances of the artist’s death by way of a journey through his friendships and acquaintances conducted in interviews by our protagonist detective Armand. He uncovers unexpected and heart-rending revelations about van Gogh that give him a new appreciation of his former neighbour.
Van Gogh’s paint supplier, Père Tanguy, recounts how van Gogh at age 28, having already failed at three careers, was living in a barn in the Belgian mining district, but by the time of his death, ten years later, was on the verge of becoming the new artistic sensation in Paris.
Armand is intrigued that after a life full of such struggles, van Gogh chose the moment of impending success to seemingly take his own life. Captivated by this mystery Armand must decide to whom he entrusts the final letter. He heads to Auvers-sur-Oise to investigate the mystery of van Gogh’s final days, where he meets an eclectic collection of characters and a village split by feuds and hidden truths.
Stunning visuals and interactions with the fascinating characters reveal insights about the artist’s state of mind, whilst also raising questions about the nature of van Gogh’s death. Was it suicide by way of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, or was he shot by someone in the village? The viewer is left to decide.
Loving Vincent is truly a captivating, unique, innovative and beautiful visual feast that does not disappoint.
Loving Vincent is available to purchase on DVD and/or blu-ray. Find out more online at lovingvincent.com
About the author
Ann Raben is Irish and a volunteer at the ACCESS helpdesk in Amsterdam.