Actor Robert Gulaczyk is Vincent van Gogh in “Loving Vincent.” (Courtesy photo)

Actor Robert Gulaczyk is Vincent van Gogh in “Loving Vincent.” (Courtesy photo)

‘Loving Vincent’ paints an exquisite picture of Dutch painter’s final months

Whether of a village postman or a starry sky, the paintings of Vincent van Gogh appear almost kinetic with emotion, and in the animated feature “Loving Vincent,” van Gogh’s brush strokes and subjects indeed move and come to life.

As with most risk-taking projects, it doesn’t wholly work. But the beautiful, novel movie (screening at the Clay) takes viewers into the paintings and, with them, the life of the postimpressionist Dutch artist.

Writer-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman have created a biodrama in which 94 van Gogh paintings appear in forms extremely close to their original version. The painstaking animation process involves filming live-action material containing people and settings found in the selected paintings and then painting over the action, rotoscope style. Every frame is hand-painted.

Both a final-days and a detective story, the drama, co-written by Jacek Dehnel, transpires in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France. It focuses on the events preceding van Gogh’s shooting death, generally regarded as a suicide, in 1890.

The primary action happens in 1891, when Armand Roulin (played by Douglas Booth) is instructed by his postmaster father (Chris O’Dowd) to deliver a letter written by the now-deceased Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) to his brother Theo.

Armand regards Vincent as a nutcase known for extreme behavior (an early scene features his infamous severed ear). But after meeting people who knew Vincent, including innkeeper’s daughter Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn), and daughter Marguerite Gachet (Saoirse Ronan), Armand changes his opinion.

Armand turns sleuth as questions arise: How could Vincent, who said he was feeling fine after his stay at Dr. Gachet’s clinic, have committed suicide? Was he murdered? His investigation yields more questions than answers.

The movie isn’t a penetrating character portrait.

While it addresses significant emotional issues such as Vincent’s feeling of being a burden to Theo, who was supporting his brother financially, it doesn’t explore what impelled Vincent to paint with such turbulent passion. It addresses Vincent’s mental illness only sketchily.

But van Gogh, having been fictionalized in a number of films — Vincente Minnelli’s “Lust for Life”; Robert Altman’s “Vincent and Theo”; Akira Kurosawa’s “Dreams” — receives thrillingly fresh treatment here.

From the celestial swirls in “The Starry Night” that move before our eyes to the appearance of a wayward crow, presumably having escaped from Vincent’s famous wheat-field landscape, Kobiela and Welchman’s brand of storytelling and the pair’s wholehearted admiration for van Gogh enable the film to transcend its shortcomings and succeed as a visually stunning, delightfully trippy, artistically unique animated pleasure.

The title refers not only to the filmmakers’ sentiments but to Vincent’s closing words, “Your Loving Vincent,” in letters to Theo, excerpts of which appear throughout the film.

REVIEW
Loving Vincent

three and a half stars
Starring Douglas Booth, Eleanor Tomlinson, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan
Written by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Jacek Dehnel
Directed by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman
Rated PG-13
Running time 1 hour, 34 minutesDorota KobielaHugh WelchmanLoving VincentMovies and TV

Just Posted

On Sunday, California bore the brunt of what meteorologists referred to as a bomb cyclone and an atmospheric river, a convergence of storms that brought more than half a foot of rain to parts of the Bay Area, along with high winds, concerns about flash floods and the potential for heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada. Much of the Bay Area was under a flash flood watch on Sunday, with the National Weather Service warning of the potential for mudslides across the region. (NOAA via The New York Times)
Bomb cyclone, atmospheric river combine to pummel California with rain and wind

What you need to know about this historic weather event

National Weather Service flood watch in the San Francisco Bay Area for Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. (National Weather Service via Bay City News)
Storm pounds Bay Area, leaving over 145,000 without power: Closures and updates

Torrential rainfall causes flooding, triggers evacuations in burn areas

Plan Bay Area 2050 is an expansive plan guiding the region’s growth and development over the next three decades. The regional plan addresses progressive policy priorities like a universal basic income and a region-wide rent cap, alongside massive new spending on affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. (Shutterstock)
Plan Bay Area 2050: Analyzing an extensive regional plan that covers the next 30 years

Here are the big ticket proposals in the $1.4 trillion proposal

A collaborative workspace for a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) in Coordinape is pictured at a recent blockchain meet up at Atlas Cafe. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Business without bosses: San Francisco innovators battle bureaucracy with blockchain

‘The next generation will work for three DAOs at the same time’

Most Read