Vincent van Gogh's life was short and extraordinary. Plagued by the demons that often afflict those of immense brilliance and creativity, the Dutch painter shot himself in a French field at the age of 37, his talent at the time unrecognised by the wider art world. But van Gogh left behind an incredible body of work - over 800 paintings; Post-Impressionist masterpieces that changed the art world forever.
Film-makers Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman seek to explore the life and death of Vincent van Gogh in Loving Vincent, drawing upon accounts of the painter's life and the many letters van Gogh sent (which he signed 'loving Vincent') But this is far from your standard bio-pic. The film-makers have instead used the artist's work and trademark style as the basis for presenting the story. And it was no easy feat, the film took seven years to make and required the services of over 100 artists. The final result is billed as the world's first hand-painted film.
A young man named Armand Roulin (voiced by Douglas Booth) who sat for portraits for van Gogh is the protagonist of Loving Vincent. After snippets of van Gogh's tumultuous life in the period leading up to his death in Arles in southern France - including the infamous incident where van Gough chopped off his own ear - the film skips to after van Gogh's death. Roulin is tasked by his father (who was van Gogh's postman and friend), with delivering a letter from the late painter to Theo, Vincent's brother. Roulin quickly discovers Theo has died as well, but Roulin's interest is sparked, and seeking to learn more, he ends up in Auvers-sur-Ouise, where he tries to reconstruct the painter's last days.
The residents of Auvers-sur-Ouise create a confusing picture. Whether it's the innkeeper's daughter, Adeline (Eleanor Tomlinson) or Dr Gachet (Jerome Flynn), who treated van Gogh's depression, nothing seems clear to Roulin. He sets about piecing the seemingly contradictory parts of the narrative together: van Gogh was happy and doing great work, yet he was so depressed he shot himself. Things even get a bit CSI-ish, with another doctor certain van Gogh couldn't have pulled the trigger himself, and that his death must have been the result of something more sinister. It's here that the story gets a bit makeshift. We do learn about van Gogh's last days and the inspiration he found in the pretty French town, but it seems to be digging for the sake of a narrative - not because the narrative urgently needs to be told.
But if the script is light on excitement, the visual effects are dazzling. The paintings which make up the film, many of which are based on van Gogh masterpieces, works like Starry Night Over the Rhone, The Night Cafe and Wheatfield with Crows, are rendered vividly - and come alive wondrously on the big screen, like the most amazing cartoon you have ever seen. Lucky, as the bulk of the film is presented this way, save a few flashback scenes rendered in black and white with live actors. But the overall visual effect of the film is compelling, and despite the at-times flimsy nature of the storyline, Loving Vincent remains a remarkable and dedicated piece of film-making.