wed 24/07/2024

Loving Vincent review - Van Gogh biopic of sorts lacks language to match its visuals | reviews, news & interviews

Loving Vincent review - Van Gogh biopic of sorts lacks language to match its visuals

Loving Vincent review - Van Gogh biopic of sorts lacks language to match its visuals

Artistry aplenty jostles cloth-eared writing in painstaking hagiography

Starry starry film: Douglas Booth in 'Loving Vincent'

Loving Vincent was clearly a labour of love for all concerned, so I hope it doesn't seem churlish to wish that a Van Gogh biopic some seven or more years in the planning had spent more time at the drawing board.

By that I don't mean yet further devotion to an already-painstaking emphasis on visuals that attempt to recreate the artist's own palette in filmmaking terms. The fact is, no amount of eye-catching amplitude can overcome consistently tin-eared writing, and by the point someone posed the onscreen question, "Did you know he was a genius?", I was primed to drain my own face of colour in disbelief. 

By now you'll have heard about the process whereby this film has come into being. The co-directors are the husband and wife team of Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela, who shot scenes with real-life actors (many of them British) that were then given over to a rotoscoping technique that allowed for some 65,000 oil paintings drawn to match the almost scarily febrile landscape pioneered by Van Gogh. Amazing, huh? Indeed it is, in much the same way that one applauds obsessive gestures of any and all stripes (or perhaps "swirls" is here the more operative word). If the net result seems to want to generate plaudits on the basis of the task itself, Loving Vincent deserves every award going; only as a movie viewed in three dimensions, not as some lunatic gesture of hagiography, does it fall dramatically short.Loving VincentThe story actually begins in Arles in 1891 a year after Van Gogh's death by suicide. Or was it? That's the conundrum that consumes a Rashomon-like narrative whereby the postmaster's son Armand (a notably full-lipped Douglas Booth) sets out to settle the matter of the painter's premature death at age 37 once and for all. (One competing theory posits that Van Gogh was murdered at the possibly accidental hands of a local, gun-happy teen by the name of René Secrétan.) Meanwhie, the application of Van Gogh's own artistry to a work about his life and art reminds one of the (infinitely superior) legerdemain on display in Sunday in the Park with George, the Stephen Sondheim masterwork that deploys musical pointillism in the service of its pointillist subject. Nor did that Pulitzer prize winner need musings on the order of "I wonder whether people will appreciate what [Van Gogh] did." 

Attired in the yellow of canvas legend (specific paintings were the inspiration throughout) so as to resemble a walking bumblebee, Booth's inquisitive Armand synthesises testimony from a motley assemblage (Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, pictured above, and Jerome Flynn are amongst those who get a look-in), even as the storytelling ranges from the lushly multi-coloured present of his inquiry to a grainier black-and-white past.

It's difficult on the one hand not to feel as if one is watching a sort of eccentric variant on Murder on the Orient Express, itself about to get a celluloid reboot, while at the same time adding to a full-to-bursting catalogue of Van Gogh-themed work that includes a recent (and dismal) Off Broadway show, Van Gogh's Ear, and, inevitably, the Don McLean song "Vincent", which arrives on cue as a sentimental climactic flourish. Same old same old, you might think, which is to sell short the visual ravishment. Now if only Loving Vincent had applied some tough love to its script. 

The conundrum consumes a Rashomon-like narrative whereby a postmaster's son sets out to settle the matter of the painter's premature death


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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