In a New Year’s gift from the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, “Loving Vincent” screens this weekend. This amazing film by husband and wife directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman animates the work of the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. It is the world’s first fully hand-painted film.
“Loving Vincent,” nominated for a Golden Globe for best animated picture, took seven years to make. Using 130 paintings copied by 120 painters in van Gogh’s impasto style, “Loving Vincent” creates a vivid portrait of this postimpressionist artist through his work. A total of 65,000 frames make up the film. The technique used, rotoscoping, employs live-action footage of actors that is then painted over by artists. Richard Linklater used a similar device in his film “Waking Life,” (2001) as did Disney in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937).
The film’s title is inspired by the way Van Gogh signed his letters: “Your loving Vincent.” A letter written by Van Gogh to his brother Theo launches the narrative. The postman who knew the artist, Joseph Roulin, played by Chris O’Dowd, sends his son Armand, played by Douglas Booth, to deliver the letter to Theo in 1891, a year after Van Gogh’s death at 37.
Finding that Theo has also died, Armand travels to Auvers-sur-Oise, the town where Van Gogh died. There he interviews a number of the artist’s friends or acquaintances in an attempt to get to the bottom of why Van Gogh likely shot himself.
The film proceeds like a detective story, investigating the speculations of biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith that someone else was responsible for Van Gogh’s death. Interviews include those with his doctor, Paul Gachet (Jerome Flynn); the doctor’s daughter, Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan); Van Gogh’s paint dealer Père Tanguy (John Sessions); a boatman who knew the artist (Aidan Turner); and Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), daughter of the innkeepers whose house was where Van Gogh died. All have served as the painter’s models. Their accounts conflict, leading Armand to puzzle over what actually happened.
Black-and-white flashbacks help develop a nuanced portrait of Van Gogh, played by Robert Gulaczyk. The film portrays him as more than just a madman genius, famous for cutting off his ear and selling only one painting during his lifetime. Many of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, ranging from “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” to “Irises,” two that have most recently sold for millions, come alive.
“Loving Vincent” uses animation to take the viewer inside the artist’s work. It is an inspiring journey.
Information and tickets are available for this and other Film Center films at mvfilmsociety.com.