Review: Loving Vincent is a Painted Tribute to a Complex Genius

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Once in a while, lesser known films come to our attention, and yet it is oddly enough these sometimes obscure titles that can leave some of the deepest impressions on us. Loving Vincent, a wholly original film project is then most definitely an example of a small-scale film with big-time impact; it’s not just a visually sumptuous work of art but a delicate and emotional exploration into one of the world’s greatest artistic giants.

In 1891 just one year after Vincent van Gogh’s death, questions still arise as to what exactly set this tormented artist off and led him to commit suicide. Through flashbacks and first-hand accounts from the people he encountered in his final home of Auvers-sur-Oise outside Paris, a clearer picture begins to form of the last days of this afflicted genius and why he took his own life.

Featuring the talent of some 115 painters, the film uses 65,000 original paintings (painted in the style of and directly inspired by the works of van Gogh) to animate this tale of the end of the great Dutch artist’s life.  Each frame, setting, and character are carefully recreated with great historical authenticity from their source material and the result is something truly unique and unexpectedly beautiful. It can get some getting used to and indeed upon first glance it may even look rather odd, but once the audience accepts the look of this world we are transported to it becomes a magical experience.

Imagining the “Cafe Terrace at Night” painting or “Starry Night” brought to an extra depth of life through this animation process may seem like a hokey stunt but it ends up paying off very extraordinarily. Even the black and white sequences (used to represent flashbacks) are strikingly effective and really convey the sense of despair van Gogh constantly wrestled with.

Though this film shouldn’t be seen as a completely authoritative study on the man and his life, it does a commendable job of spotlighting some of the emotions and complex relationships the artist experienced. What exactly was van Gogh’s sickness and how sick was he? Furthermore just how responsible were those around him for his eventual demise? The movie seems to hint that just as the proverb says that it takes a village to raise a child, it can also lead to their destruction.

Vincent van Gogh’s mental struggles plagued him his entire 37 years of existence, but as was common practice in the 19th-century help and or real sympathy for the mentally ill was difficult to find. All the characters in the town of Auvers had their own unique dealings with him, and while some were obviously friendlier than others, few if any actually understood his reason for being and the drive behind his ‘madness’.  If the world is a global village then it failed Vincent van Gogh. Only a handful of people including his brother Theo offered their support but that could never fill the void of public misunderstanding.  As the lyrics to the song “Vincent” by Don McLean illuminate:

"For they could not love you But still, your love was true But I could've told you, Vincent This world was never meant for One as beautiful as you"

Perhaps now as McLean continues they will listen; indeed today van Gogh’s legacy remains one of the greatest in the history of post-Impressionist  Western art and the romanticism of the tortured artist continues to fascinate and inspire people across the world. Certainly, even from a personal perspective, I can proclaim that Vincent van Gogh’s art has indeed a special place in my heart. In my home, there are several prints of his works and other inspired material including my mousepad, coffee mugs, and even clothing. (Notice the tie I am wearing in my contributor profile picture). I have also had the privilege of visiting Arles, in southern France, Vincent’s first permanent French home and the site of some of his greatest artistic output. Visiting the original sites and vistas that inspired him to paint was a truly remarkable experience.

And so seeing the film Loving Vincent  will certainly be an emotional viewing for any admirer (including this critic) of this artist. As a visual work, it is assuredly impressive and beautiful, and the work of the painters/animators deserve the greatest level of acclaim. To bring these paintings and style of art to animated reality is a testament to the great artistic talents out there and a reaffirmation of the timeless nature of not only painted works but of van Gogh’s output. Coupled with an emotional examination of the man’s last days and the world that forgot him in life but now justly remembers him in death, “Loving Vincent” is a beautifully made movie. Though it is certainly not a big Hollywood epic this lovely little film inspires and delivers, further casting a shining light on a misunderstood soul and a true genius.


Michael Vecchio
Michael Vecchio
Michael Vecchio is a critic, essayist, musician and contributing writer for Before The Cyborgs A graduate of the University of Alberta, he is an avid follower of film, current events, history, and politics. When not at the movies, he is an active pianist and accompanist.



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