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‘Loving Vincent’: A moving canvas explores Van Gogh’s final days

Colorful images from Loving Vincent

For Loving Vincent, an animated retelling of artist Vincent Van Gogh’s final days in Auvers-sur-Oise, France (distributed here by Solar Entertainment), we are told some 123 artists hand-painted 62,000 movie frames to simulate the Dutch painter’s world and masterpieces.

That’s an average 6,000 paintings assigned per artist. On the other hand, Van Gogh reportedly only sold one of his 800 paintings left behind in an eight-year flurry of creation before his death from a gunshot wound. So Van Gogh, at the very least, has put a lot of other young painters to work a century later.

Loving Vincent is a beauty to look at — all those shimmery starry nights and crosshatched wheat fields and intricately shaded faces we sometimes recognize from Van Gogh’s work. It takes up the mystery of the artist’s death, bandying many theories. Was it suicide? Was it murder? Did the town hate him as an outsider? Or embrace his gentle, artistic nature? Armand (Douglas Booth), the somewhat aimless and disinterested son of a letter carrier in Holland, is tasked to deliver a sealed note from Vincent to his brother Theo that never reached him because of the artist’s death. Armand travels to Auvers-sur-Oise, where Van Gogh had been under the medical care of Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn, whose voice and face, even rendered in Van Gogh tones, is instantly recognizable as Bronn from Game of Thrones).

While Vincent’s death is still a matter of debate, a postal errand is not necessarily the most dramatic way to frame his turbulent life and existence. The revelations can feel clunky at times, lacking propulsive force in the aftermath of the real dramatic full stop: the ending of the artist’s life with a gunshot to the abdomen.

And while the film is visually striking, it eventually settles into a lulling pattern of handpainted images, gently shimmering (some movie patrons reported taking catnaps while watching). The more striking moments involve shifts between vibrant colors and black and white, or characters juxtaposed against scenes we recall from Van Gogh’s paintings. At the very least, we can applaud the amount of labor involved in blowing up each frame of the movie and decorating it in oil paint. Sure, it could have been more easily accomplished by a computer or Rotoscoping. But where’s the tribute to human suffering in that?

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By the end, Loving Vincent presents a more moving tribute to the artist in his own words and those of his brother’s widow (read aloud from actual letters). That, and the lingering power of Van Gogh’s paintings, make it worth an appreciative view.

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Loving Vincent is now showing. Distributed by Solar Entertainment.

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