Movie review: Loving Vincent (2017)

Loving Vincent is a visual treat. The film covers the year after Vincent van Gogh’s death with flashbacks to van Gogh’s final days in Auvers.

Loving Vincent is not a normal documentary. It is an animation painted by 100 artists. The story takes place in van Gogh type paintings. In fact, you will recognize scene after scene as the story unfolds: Starry Night, The Bedroom of Arles, Café Terrance at Night, The Yellow House, The Night Café, Wheatfield with Crows, and many more. To watch Loving Vincent is to watch van Gogh’s paintings scroll by. (He produced 800 paintings during his lifetime.) In contrast, flashbacks appear as black and white pen sketches rather than as brushstrokes in the van Gogh style.

In the main story, postman Joseph Rouline sends his son Armand to deliver a letter to Theo, van Gogh’s brother with whom Vincent was close. The letter was returned to sender. Armand leaves for Paris but quickly discovers the reason for the letter’s return: Theo died not long after Vincent passed away.

Armand is eager to find someone to give the letter to. He tracks down the man who supplied Vincent with his paints, but Pere Tanguy is not willing to take the letter. Instead, he directs Armand to the doctor in Auvers that treated Vincent.

Off to Auvers he goes wanting to be done with this whole adventure. Only what he finds in Auvers sucks him in. Suddenly he wants to understand Van Gogh’s last year of life and why he killed himself. Stories he hears from various people do not add up and in some cases contradict one other. Who is telling the truth? Who is covering up facts? What exactly happened? Did Vincent kill himself or was he shot by someone else?

The image developed of Vincent is of a genius. Unfortunately, he was raised by harsh, unloving parents who did not see, understand, or nurture his talents. Vincent didn’t take up the brush or an interest in painting until he was 28. By 37, he was dead of a gunshot wound. In between those times, he suffered from breakdowns and mental illness. His death is seen as an unfortunate conclusion to a life of depression, but Armand wonders if this is too convenient an explanation. Unintentional murder seems more likely to him.

Of course, we will never know. But Loving Vincent, through the eyes of Armand, introduces us to the circumstances of his final year of life. We meet the main characters in his life, hear their stories, and listen to Armand question what he has discovered.

The title is a nod to the close relationship between the two brothers, Vincent and Theo. They wrote to each other often. In the end, Armand sends the letter to Theo’s widow, who collected all letters between Vincent and Theo for publication. Vincent would sign his letters to Theo with “Your Loving Vincent”.

Whether one believes in the theory that Vincent was killed rather than committed suicide, Loving Vincent is well worth a watch. It a visual masterpiece, based on the artist’s own works. I came away with a better appreciation of his travails and the rich depth of his works. And I weep for what more he could have produced had he lived.

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