Although my first love was the performing arts, a few painters have always captured my imagination. Of those, the red-headed, Dutch, post-impressionist Vincent van Gogh was probably my favorite. I love his bright colors, his quirky portraits, his fields, flowers, and furniture. But above all, to nobody’s surprise, I love his wild, dreamlike, and most famous “Starry Night.”
The Polish animated feature Loving Vincent is a bit like “Starry Night.” It’s a simple premise: a young man is charged with delivering a letter from the recently dead Vincent to his brother Theo. It’s quiet and soothing: the movie keeps at a pretty low pitch mostly, with lots of landscapes and scenes of people holding conversations. And yet, somehow, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen: after the scenes were filmed and edited, a team of 100 artists oil-painted over every single frame.
The final product of such an endeavor? An epic exploration of the life, love, and death of Vincent Van Gogh through his own eyes, the way he looked at the world.
Loving Vincent is not flashy, and wouldn’t endear too much re-watching if it had merely been filmed and produced in the traditional way. But in its particular style of animation, the movie is not only able to give us a fresh way of humanizing this bizarre, legendary painter, but the filmmakers are able to bring dozens of his most beloved paintings to life.
Our protagonist (Douglas Booth, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; Noah) is Armand Roulin, of van Gogh’s “Yellow Jacket” portrait. We also meet “Marguerite Gachet at the Piano” (Saoirse Ronan, Ladybird; Brooklyn) the Postman Roulin (Chris O’Dowd, Molly’s Game; The Incredible Jessica James, and the “Old Man in Sorrow” (Bill Thomas, Alice Through the Looking Glass). We glimpse the sunflowers, the irises, and the majestic stars shining over the Rhone.
Vincent van Gogh was, perhaps, a man born out of time. Depressed and poetic, quiet yet dramatic, living in poverty, and suffering from something like bipolar disorder or epilepsy, he remains a bittersweet hero for the modern artist. He is a reminder of the importance of human empathy and friendship. His story makes me humbly grateful for modern medicine and spurs me on to make the art that brings me joy, even if I never grow rich from my labors.
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”
Vincent wrote that phrase in a letter to his brother Theo. I like to think that sentiment inspired the directors (Dorota Kobiela, The Flying Machine; & Hugh Welchman, La Vie en Rose), oil painters, and crew of Loving Vincent. It certainly inspires me to take the leap to repaint my days with fresh new life of wonder and imagination.