“LOVING VINCENT” (2017) Co-Production, Poland/UK
directed by Dorota kobiela and Hugh Welchman
review and comments by Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, Australia
This beautiful work has made history in the field of Animation cinema. For people with a particular interest in the tragic tale and work of Vincent Van Gogh, for art-lovers in general, for cinephiles it is a precious gift from devoted film-makers who have worked for seven years on this project.
Vincent painted the portrait of Joseph Roulin, Postmaster of Arles. The film tells us the story of Vincent’s life and last months before his death on 29 July, 1890 (aged 37)from a self-inflicted gun-shot wound, via the device of the postmaster’s son being sent on a mission to deliver a letter from Vincent to his brother,that has been returned.
Vincent and his brother Theo were very close, (two men, one heart, the film tells us) and Theo supported Vincent with regular gifts of money, and painting canvas and tubes of paint. The postmaster Roulin knew and loved Vincent, because these two loving brothers kept up a very frequent correspondence. These letters have been published elsewhere and make very moving reading indeed as well as being enlightening as to Vincent’s artistic thoughts.
Armand, the son of Roulin goes to Paris, and to Auvers-sur-Oise where Vincent had been in care after he had an emotional breakdown, and talks to people who knew Vincent. He is like a detective, trying to get to the truth of what really happened. He is at first unwilling, but becomes interested, then passionate to find out the truth of the man Vincent, whom he is now starting to fully appreciate. Armand Roulin’s portrait, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888
The wonderful aspect of this film is that the entire story, 95 minutes of it, is told in hand-painted oil paintings, done in the style of Vincent’s own work. Scenes begin with an image that Vincent himself painted and if viewers are familiar with all his works, they will recognize the people and the places. But now they are moving, they are speaking, they are telling their stories, and their impressions of Vincent, the man. Some were fond of him, some ridiculed him. There are various points of view.
Technically the film “Loving Vincent” is a wonder of animation. One hundred artists in two countries, (Poland and Greece) working in Vincent’s own style contributed full colour paintings for “the present” and black and white paintings for “the past” as the story is being told by the people who knew Vincent.
The film is made up of 853 ‘shots’, and each one began with a first frame of a full painting on canvas board. As the animation photography was done in 12 frames per second, the first painting, would then be photographed, then painted over, with each gradual change to certain details or all of it, until the last frame of the shot. (This is in place of the use of animation cels, which could not be applied in this style of work.) At the end of the ‘shot’ the film-makers were left with an oil-painting on canvas board, of the last frame. So at the end of filming 853 paintings remained, and 200 are being auctioned off, and many have already sold, (as can be seen from the films own website) although at the time of writing the film has not yet premiered in the USA. The size of the works was usually 67cm by 49cm.
Bear in mind that for one hour of film, 43,200 paintings were required, and you will begin to see the extraordinary ambition of this project. Additionally 90 design paintings were created in the planning stages during the year before shooting started. The purpose of these was to define the style in which the artists would all re-create Vincent’s style of painting and make it move, live and breathe. 65,000 painted frames in oils were made for the whole film.
The story moves along briskly and is full of wonderful characters (the people in Vincent’s life). The artworks are breathtaking and for an artist it will most interesting to observe the ways the film’s artists made a train move and a horse-drawn carriage seem to be speeding across the frames, through their changes in art techniques to suggest the speed.
The dialogue of the characters is very interesting, full of expression, as are the faces, and the characters have been created to really “live” for us. This was done by casting well known and excellent actors in the main roles, and filming them in live-action, then using those ‘normal’ cinematic images for a basis of the paintings for each ‘shot’. As the film went along, I recognized (from other films) certain of the painted faces of the real actors, who are also giving voice to the painted characters in the final work.
This type of animation has never been done before, and as it took seven years, it might never be done again either. The thinking out of how to actually do it is brilliant and has been a great success.
So in this remarkable way the previously award winning co-producers have given us an unforgettable cinematic experience. BreakThru Films (Poland) previously won an Oscar in 2008 for their “Peter and the Wolf”, and “Trademark Films (UK) also won Oscars in 1998 for “Shakespeare in Love”.
It is a rare and precious work of cinema animation, and a poignant and beautiful story. Vincent, who suffered, from what we now call bi-polar disease, was an intelligent, deeply sensitive man, who had a sad childhood in a strict bourgeouis family, and was something of a misfit. His first attempt at supporting himself was his job he took as a Protestant evangelist, in the Brabant – trying to imitate his father. This was not a success. In that poor area of hard-working and poverty stricken people he used his spare time for drawing.
He had some art lessons at Antwerp Academy and in Paris at Cormon’s Atelier for 3 months. He showed immense natural talent. This can be seen clearly and unmistakably by looking at his early drawings. When he was oil painting, after going to Paris and meeting up with some of the Impressionists in the Paris cafes, he used brush techniques that imitated the ‘signature’ in his pen and ink works.
He left Paris and went to warm and colourful Provence, and lived in his famous Yellow House in Arles. He begged his friend Gaugin to come and join him, and eventually Gaugin arrived. Vincent was over-joyed but after a few months, things went wrong between them, and Vincent seemed to become very distressed. When Gaugin departed, he was inconsolable. After the famous incident of cutting of his own ear in his distress, he went into care of Dr Gachet in Auver, where he found a kindred spirit in Gachet (Gachet loved art) and recovered. There he did quite a few more wonderful drawings and paintings. In the film the people of Auvers are mainly the ones telling us of Vincent’s final days.
Vincent saw the world in a kind of almost violent motion and almost all of his works, drawings and paintings show this. It’s as if the wind was visible to him in the air itself, not only in the resulting movements of trees, and fields of grain, or the moving sea. He never sold a painting in his own lifetime, and yet now his works hold the record as being the most expensive ever sold – which happened in modern times. He gave away some works, but sent most to his brother Theo who attempted to sell them in his Paris Art Gallery.
Please do NOT miss a chance to see this amazing film “Loving Vincent”. (The title comes from the way he signed his letters to Theo – ‘your loving Vincent’.)
A final note: The film’s flagship “Loving Vincent” Exhibition will open in Noordbrabants Museum, on 13th October. It will showcase 119 oil paintings from the film, just 10% of the paintings remaining after the filming process. The exhibition will also show how the film-makers re-imagined the paintings of Vincent himself, into the medium of film, using the very same tools (brush and canvas) that Vincent used.
copyright Cynthia Webb (September 2017)
Poster image courtesy of the film producers