Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Loving Vincent

We went to see Loving Vincent last night. If we hadn't gone, there would have been only one person watching it.

The theatre should have been full: this is a wonderful movie about Vincent van Gogh. It's not the greatest movie of all time - the script is a little undercooked. It's probably not even the greatest animated movie of all time, but it has a certain unique quality that sets it apart.

If you don't already know, the movie was shot with live actors in front of a green screen. There are a number of well-known faces in the cast, such as Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory and Chris O'Dowd. Intriguingly they all speak with British accents rather than French or European ones, so that we hear Irish and Cockney amongst others. This takes a little getting used to, but it works.

Once the live action was shot, paintings by van Gogh were 'composited' into the background and the film was edited as normal. Then each frame was projected onto a blank canvas, and one of some 125  hundred artists painted - in oils - over the projection, using the techniques Van Gogh himself would have used.

The result is a movie rich in colour, with real depth and texture. None of the artists had worked on an animated movie before, so they brought a different sense of colour and animation to the screen.

Initially, the eye is almost overwhelmed with the movement - clouds never stay still, trees continually reform their leaves, even people's hair moves from frame to frame. It's a little disorientating. And it's wonderful seeing so many of Van Gogh's paintings coming to life during the course of the movie.

The story is more straightforward, almost a detective story. Armand Roulin, the son of the postmaster who was a friend of van Gogh (both of them appear in well-known van Gogh portraits), has been charged with delivering a one-year-old letter that Vincent had sent to his brother, Theo. It had gone astray. During the course of trying to get the letter to its rightful home, Armand discovers that things were not entirely as they seemed in relation to Vincent's death. Being impetuous, he often jumps to conclusions, and he's led astray by the variances in the stories people tell him about Vincent's last hours.

The audience is also led astray: one minute feeling that new revelations about Vincent's death have come to light, the next finding that another character contradicts what we've heard. It leaves the viewer with a kind of emotional confusion, and an increasing sadness at the shortness of Vincent's life, and the reasons behind his death.

I found the movie very moving for reasons I couldn't put my finger on. The reason for that doesn't matter. Both my wife and I were overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of it.