Films about enigmatic real life characters often go to large efforts to find and discover their chosen figure. In Loving Vincent this search is a bit more literal. Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) was an ardent letter writer during his life and after his death Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), a local postman, was left with an undelivered letter from Vincent to his brother. Unable to post it himself, he entrusts his son, Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), with the job. After finding that Theo van Gogh (Cezary Lukaszewicz) had also died, Armand descends upon the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise where Vincent had spent his final years. There he speaks to the local residents and hears their stories about the artist they all knew in different ways.

The idea of creating an entire film painted in the style of van Gogh is ingenious. In many respects there is no better way to celebrate the mysterious painter and illustrate the ways in which he viewed the world. Bringing together more than 65000 individually painted images over several years is a huge achievement that rightly deserves applause.

It is such a shame that all this work and effort is wasted on a poor script and dull story. This makes watching Loving Vincent a very frustrating experience. Beautiful images are accompanied by disjointed dialogue and a story that would be more at home on children’s television.

It doesn’t help that there is a strange mismatch of accents. Armand Roulin and Joseph Roulin may be father and son and may have spent their entire lives in the same small town but for some reason one has an East London accent and the other has an Irish accent. It feels as if voice actors were chosen for their celebrity profiles and not for their suitability in each role.

Aside from that, certain aspects of the plot verge on conspiracy and even suggest that van Gogh may not have committed suicide as it traverses each conflicted account of the last days of his life. In the end it does make its mind up about his fate but if his life and death were not so mysterious after all then why is he so peripheral to the story. The plot is constructed under the premise that his life was a mystery, but by finally making a judgement about it and rejecting the many claims that make up the film the filmmakers are inadvertently making most of the story redundant. We are asked to ponder van Gogh’s final days and think about each possibility only to be later told that each outcome is false. It is hard to come out of Loving Vincent without thinking you have wasted your time. In all honestly the film taught me nothing about the painter’s work or life.

Rarely has such a brilliant idea been executed so poorly. The hand painted animation that makes up Loving Vincent may be a beautiful homage to the great painter but the script and story is more suitable for a children’s picture book than a feature film. Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman could have created something truly remarkable but instead it is largely disappointing.

In cinemas from Friday 13th October


London Film Festival 2017: The Watchlist

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