We all know Vincent van Gogh as the watercolor impressionist who painted The Starry Night and cut off his ear. Even if he was shunned in his time, he’s gone down in history as one of the greatest artists to ever do it. The film Loving Vincent uses the artistic style he pioneered to tell the story of his life and death, yet it’s the power of his legacy that encapsulates the film’s every facet and steals the show.
As far as the execution of its story is concerned, Loving Vincent is flawed. Taking many cues from film noir, the film’s freight train of dialogue feels like listening to a dramatized audiobook of a history text. The sheer density of rambling makes it easy to tune out what’s being said despite impassioned performances by the cast. A non-linear string of narrated flashbacks that make up the bulk of the film don’t help this cause. However, none of this is important because the true story being told here is the one you aren’t able to rip your eyes away from: that told by the oil canvas-painted visuals.
The 115 artists on display bring with them a diverse variety of styles. Some mimic van Gogh’s impressionism by abstractly implying scenery. Others swing the other way, going for photorealism that at times will make you forget you’re not watching live-action. You may expect a clash between these extremes and everything in-between but they mesh together seamlessly as each depicts different tones and times. For example, the film maintains a sense of place in time by showing flashback sequences with more realistic and darker imagery. What’s amazing about all of this is that you don’t even need to listen to what the dialogue is saying to understand the emotional impact of each scene; the intonation of voices, color palate and painting techniques speak louder than the script.
As you see in the photo above, this film could have easily been made in live-action. What animation allowed for was the distinct accentuated realism that displays what this art style is capable of. Despite the inherent vagueness of van Gogh’s approach, the artists were able to get every nuance out of their portrayal of the cast’s performances. The characters’ lips, faces and bodies move in ways that ever so slightly bend reality, making them larger than life. The emotions they convey are bigger for it. That this artistic style built on the back of interpretation manages to be so particularly proficient in human expression showcases its versatility.
This really speaks to the importance of the artistic movement that van Gogh birthed. The way we witness how his influence has survived and evolved since his untimely death gives purpose to the depicted hardships he suffered in life. That someone shunned by society turned out to be such a master of his craft that he’d inspire generations to come is more poignant a story than the film’s musings about his mysterious suicide. Not only has his craft led to artists expanding the scope of what watercolor painting is capable of but it’s even gave way for it to expand into new mediums such as animation. This film’s existence is perhaps the greatest possible tribute to the man due to what it stands for.
As I’ve mentioned, watching Loving Vincent isn’t the easiest endeavor. The verbosely narrated flashbacks aren’t very digestible or the most engaging way of exploring the subject matter (a death veiled in mystery should be way more stimulating than this). But the value of this film is what we find when looking at it in the meta. It tells a story more important than his life: his legacy.