A letter to the brother of artist Vincent Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) falls into the possession Postman Roulin (Chris O’Dowd) who requests that his son, Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), hands the letter to the brother, Theo. Armand discovers that Theo has also died, and travels to Auvers-sur-Oise, the site of Van Gogh’s death, to deliver the letter to Van Gogh's doctor (Jerome Flynn). In Auvers-sur-Oise, he discovers there may be more to Van Gogh’s death than initially perceived.
Even someone with the most minuscule interest in art has heard of the name Vincent Van Gogh and more than likely stumbled across one his paintings even without realising it. His art has branded itself on popular culture so much so that you can see copies of his works on common household items such as coffee mugs and T-towels. There have been plenty of films made about him, how can there not be? The level of interest and fasciation in his life is almost unparalleled. With all the Van Gogh films something special is required to make it unique and what distances Loving Vincent from the endless list of Van Gogh biopics is that it’s made in his artistic style with the expressive brushstrokes, bold colours and post impression style.
To achieve such an effect, directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman shot the film as a live action picture and then hired a team of over 100 hundred artists to hand paint every single frame (all 65000 plus) in Van Gogh's style. What this does is create something that is staggeringly beautiful to look at, something unique to cinema. Magcially, the way the film was made leaves in the actor’s facial reactions, achieving a very realistic level of attention to detail. It’s something that took years to make, unsurprising considering the number frames that the artists had to paint, and the dedication and passion that went into the project leaps and bounds off the screen.
It’s glorious to look at, but there is so far this gimmick can go. There needs to be story. The story of Van Gogh’s death was given a little spice a few years ago when biographers argued there’s a possibility that he may have been shot rather than shot himself. The film weaves this into the film noir inspired story with Armand Roulin trying find out what happened during Van Gogh’s final few months. The detective story on its own isn’t an overly gripping and twisty tale, there’s a little too much bouncing from one character to another, but the way the film depicted Van Gogh’s life, a man who would romanticise the idea of the tortured artist, is heartbreakingly poignant and moving.
I hesitate to call it a work of art as I don’t want to run the risk of being pelted with rotten fruit for making such a poor joke, but it is a generally powerful and moving film.