Loving Vincent (2017)
Directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
It took 125 artists 6 years to craft 2017’s most impressive feat in animation, “Loving Vincent.” All of the film’s nearly 900 shots (that’s 65,000 frames) were drawn by hand in the post-Impressionist style of Vincent Van Gogh, the subject of this riveting biopic. It is one of the most unique and remarkable efforts in animation history. Actors, dressed in full costume, played out the scenes and gave voice to their character; artists came in afterward to put those performances on canvas. The stop-motion-esque results, almost like one of those flip-books you played with as a child, is unlike any animated movie you’ve ever seen. And while its plot, which recounts a story from about a year following Van Gogh’s mysterious death, is not quite as awe-inspiring as its technique, it does offer a fascinating glance into the life and death of a man not well known to anyone who skipped that art appreciation class in college…I promise, you’ll be appreciative now.
At the time of his death, Van Gogh was known primarily by those in the small village in which he lived. To them, he was a dutiful and caring artist, or a sacrilegious scoundrel, depending on who you asked. That’s what Armand (Douglas Booth), the son of a postman, finds out as he tries to deliver a letter written by Vincent before his death. But this simple task turns into an amateur investigation, as Armand talks to all sorts of people—Vincent’s friend (Jerome Flynn) and his daughter (Saoirse Ronan); a boatman (Aidan Turner); and a policeman (Chris O’Dowd)—in an effort to piece together what really happened to Vincent, and to properly deliver the last letter he’d ever written.
Flashback scenes, painted in a more realistic black and white style, show Vincent in the final weeks of his life. The colorful animation that makes up the majority of the film follows Armand, and is in a more direct copycat of Van Gogh’s blotty style. A fun game becomes to find the Van Gogh paintings that are more or less recreated in the film, since many of the characters in “Loving Vincent” are based on people the artist painted portraits of. Van Gogh painted nearly 800 paintings in his most prolific and final few years. Many of those were portraits of people he came into contact with, be they friends or strangers. The film blends his portraits with the movements and expressions of the actors to create a composite character. It’s a wonderful way to honor Van Gogh while still capturing the real human emotions of the cast. That way, actors like Booth, Turner, and Ronan can put their tremendous talent to use, instead of just lending their voice. The grandness of the film is also reflected in Clint Mansell’s gorgeous score and the cover of Don McLean’s “Vincent” that plays during the credits. “Loving Vincent” was a remedy to a notably weak year in animated film.