“Stand in front of a painting by Vincent van Gogh for more than five minutes, and your brain starts to react in strange ways. Even today, more than a century after the artist’s death, the brushstrokes pack an almost psychedelic energy, vibrating with an intensity that seems to have sprung directly from van Gogh’s tortured personal life. Now imagine staring at one of these paintings for 90 minutes straight—or crazier still, watching a series of them actually start to move.
Such was the vision Polish animator Dorota Kobiela had for Loving Vincent a truly awe-inspiring portrait of the great Dutch artist that boasts the distinction of being ‘the world’s first fully painted feature film.’ That means every one of the nearly 65,000 frames in this near-lunatic labor of love was rendered by hand with oil paints, following a style intended to mimic that of the master—which has precisely the effect you might imagine, pulling audiences into the delirious, hyper-sensual world suggested by van Gogh’s oeuvre.
The artist himself has been dead a year when the story begins, so we aren’t seeing things through his eyes so much as in ersatz homage to his style, where bold colors and thick, energetic strokes of paint transform traditional live-action footage into living tableaux, rendered all the richer by Clint Mansell’s gorgeous score. It’s an impressive conceit, and one that allows us to float through van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone or pop in for a drink at the Café Terrace at Night—just two of nearly 130 actual paintings that Kobiela and co-writer/director Hugh Welchman weave into the relatively conventional detective story (of all things!) that frames this one-of-a-kind work of art.
Most people know that van Gogh cut off his own ear, but fewer recall—and no one knows for certain—the precise explanation for his death. Needless to say, Kobiela and Welchman won’t be the ones to solve this mystery, and yet, they enlist a handsome young man—Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), son of the postmaster with the wild-bramble beard (Chris O’Dowd), both of whom sat for several van Gogh portraits—to serve as a sort of amateur detective. Clad in the same bright yellow blazer forever immortalized on canvas, Armand becomes improbably infatuated with the case, setting out to answer the question, ‘How does a man go from being absolutely calm to suicidal in six weeks?’
Although history immortalizes Vincent van Gogh as a kind of mad genius, the filmmakers literally try to craft a more nuanced and sensitive portrait of the artist, who often signed his letters, ‘Your loving Vincent’—from which the movie’s title derives.” (Peter Debruge, Variety)
“[I]t’s safe to say nobody has ever seen anything quite like it before.” (Zack Sharf, IndieWire)