Van Gogh’s paintings have quite rightly risen from obscurity to gallery and (perhaps sunk) to adorning fridge magnets and memes. His impressionist broad brush strokes bring a rich vibrancy to quotidian scenes and his use of colour is groundbreaking.
Douglas Booth is Armand Roulin, the feckless youth who rises to the challenge of delivering Vincent’s last letter to his brother, Theo. His father, played by a pleasingly stoical and authoritative Chris O’Dowd, was Vincent’s postman and friend. Armand becomes absorbed in his task and tries to discover why an artist on the brink of stardom would kill himself.
Along the way, he learns about Vincent’s skill and character. He also bumps into half of the Poldark cast: Aidan Turner is a credible boatman and Eleanor Tomlinson shines as a lively innkeeper’s daughter.
Pol-dock: Aidan Turner as the Boatman
At times, Loving Vincent risks capitulating to the Van Gogh cult and its fetish for the ultimate tortured artist. An example is the film's return to his troubled childhood, loomed over by his mother – the stony-faced matriarch who expected more.
Told in the sharper black-and-white style of the film’s flashbacks, her brief appearance has a melodramatic Woman in Black quality and the cliché-ridden script here doesn’t help. John Sessions’ otherwise fantastically realised art supplier laments, 'He struggled to be what they wanted him to be’.
Eleanor Tomlinson as Adeline Ravoux
But, on the whole, the film manages well. Besides, Loving Vincent tries to understand his art though his character by being immersed in that very art, so plot is secondary to experience. Building around the well-known pictures, it feels like walking into the frame. The famous faces remind us that these too are art’s A-List but it's just as thrilling to see the familiar canvases anew.
From the delicacy of smoke to the mirror-like clarity of a water bowl, attention has been given to every detail. Booth’s jacket is perhaps better than his performance. An ebullient yellow, it recalls Vincent’s fascination with capturing hues in The Yellow House ‘because it is fantastic, these yellow houses in the sun.’
Douglas Booth [left] in a reworked Night Cafe
Ultimately, the genius of this project is its ability to create an impressionist film, putting aside testimonies and character evidence to embrace more fully art’s ability to reshape reality according to a viewer’s perceptions and impressions.
labour of love, Loving Vincent is a surreal viewing experience as well as an intelligent exploration of the experience
of viewing. Teetering on the edge of over-sentimentality, it is saved by a fiercely intelligent structure and production and a sensitive approach which will leave a lasting impression on its audience.
|What||Loving Vincent film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
13 Oct 17 – 17 Apr 19, Times Vary
|Price||£ determined by cinem|
|Website||Click here for more information|