Movie review: In the eye-popping 'Loving Vincent,' van Gogh's paintings spring to life

By Stephanie Merry The Washington Post - Updated: October 27, 2017 at 6:44 am • Published: October 27, 2017 0
photo - The animated film "Loving Vincent" was created from approximately 65,000 oils-on-canvas, hand-painted in the style of Vincent Van Gogh. MUST CREDIT: Good Deed Entertainment
The animated film "Loving Vincent" was created from approximately 65,000 oils-on-canvas, hand-painted in the style of Vincent Van Gogh. MUST CREDIT: Good Deed Entertainment

"Loving Vincent" is an indisputably technical achievement. Each of the animated film's 65,000 frames is an oil painting, created by a classically trained artist in the various styles of Vincent van Gogh. More than 100 painters worked to create the film, which follows an acquaintance trying to uncover how and why van Gogh died in 1890 at 37.

Visually, it's spectacular. Conceptually, it's jaw-dropping to consider the effort it took.

But the story doesn't always hold its own.

Husband and wife Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela directed the drama, which they wrote with Jacek Dehnel. Kobiela, the most experienced of the three, has co-directed only one other feature, making this work all the more impressive.

The tale begins one year after van Gogh died, purportedly from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Joseph Roulin (voice of Chris O'Dowd), a postman and friend whom van Gogh immortalized in portraiture, tells son Armand (Douglas Booth) to deliver the last letter van Gogh wrote, addressed to his brother, Theo.

Armand's journey detours once he realizes that Theo, too, is dead. So Armand travels to Auvers-sur-Oise, where van Gogh died, to meet people who knew him. What starts as an investigation into the suicide of a man whose depression and anxiety seemed to be lifting turns into a whodunit.

Much of the mystery feels like an excuse to revisit characters and scenes from van Gogh's art. Watching "Loving Vincent" lets viewers pick out famous works - portraits of van Gogh's doctor, Paul Gachet (Jerome Flynn), and his daughter, Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan), plus glimpses of "The Starry Night" and boats on the Oise River bank.

Van Gogh's 1890 portrait of Adeline Ravoux - the daughter of innkeepers at the house where he died - isn't his most famous work, but Adeline (Eleanor Tomlinson) makes a deep impression.

Some exchanges between Armand and the people he meets are meaningful. At times, the narrative drags, as Armand tries to solve a mystery that might not even be one.

There is nevertheless a thrill in watching static images spring to life as complex characters and dynamic landscapes.

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