Every frame of Loving Vincent is hand painted, making this film truly unique and visually stunning. The entire film comprises of some 65,000 frames, each hand painted by one of 125 painters. The pay-off is massive, with every individual scene appearing as lifelike as possible while also surreal. The accompanying music, by Clint Mansell, only adds to the overall effect of the film. The soundtrack is truly stunning and perfectly attuned to the tone of each scene. This film is definitely an experience, a feast of both audio and visual delicacy. But Loving Vincent isn’t a wonderful film solely because of its artistic beauty. Its story is intimate, heartfelt, and deeply engaging.
Set a year after the death of artist Vincent van Gogh, this film explores Vincent’s life and death through the people who knew him. We see all of these individual stories unfold through the eyes of Armand Roulin, the son of postman Joseph Roulin. Tasked with delivering one of Vincent’s letters to his younger brother Theo van Gogh, Armand finds himself becoming more and more intrigued by the artist’s death. The end result is an engaging story that challenges the viewer to look at van Gogh through the perspectives of several very different individuals, all of whom viewed him in manners both flattering and damning.
What makes this story truly stunning is that the characters we meet along the way, as well as Armand himself, are all people Vincent van Gogh painted during his lifetime. With an incredible attention to detail, the film recreates famous paintings and reveals each character as they appeared in portraits by the artist. These characters all work together to create an intimate portrait of van Gogh, each of their stories giving the viewer a deeper understanding of the artist, his work, and his humanity.
Although this film covers a lot of dark subject matter, it treats its characters with respect and tenderness. While it would have been easy to portray van Gogh as deeply disturbed and suicidal, this film tries to dig beneath the surface of van Gogh’s infamous struggle with mental illness. What emerges is a more complex character of a man who felt deeply about the world around him, the effects of this feeling leading him to both despair and joy. Too often popular culture treats issues of mental illness with an overly simplistic attitude of pity or disgust, but this film does neither. Instead, it makes the viewer sympathetic to the very human suffering of van Gogh while also showing him existing beyond his illness.
You don’t need to be a lover of art history to appreciate this film. It has so much to offer in terms of its beauty, its heartfelt story and its complex and loveable characters. More than anything, it’s a film that challenges the viewer to think about the stories we tell about people and how they can act to create differing portraits. Vincent van Gogh is an artist whose life is still the subject of discussion. Was he a madman? A genius? A lonely depressed man? Or someone who lived for the beauty in the everyday world around him? This film asks you to consider just who Vincent van Gogh was and, ultimately, what his life can teach each of us about our own.
Words by Lisandra Linde
Lisandra Linde is an editor, writer and Hons. student. She is currently working on her thesis on women’s writing and mental illness at Flinders University. She can often be found performing at spoken word events around Adelaide. You can follow her on Twitter @KrestianLullaby.