The life of Van Gogh told in 65,000 paintings

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By Zsarlene B. Chua

IT WAS A very ambitious undertaking: hand-painting an entire film about one of the most prominent painters of all time – in his signature Post-Impressionist style. While Loving Vincent suffers from choppy writing, it’s a very beautiful film about the misunderstood genius.

Loving Vincent was a seven-year project written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. Featuring the work of more than a hundred artists, the film is composed of 65,000 frames – each one of them an oil painting on canvas.

Continuity might be something a normal film (and its critics) would be overly concerned about but Loving Vincent is the kind of film where continuity problems come off as charming. Mostly because it shows – vaguely – the number of artists who worked on a single shot. While the styles are all Van Gogh-esque, there are subtle differences that make each shot unique. Through every stroke, it was evident how much of a labor of love the film was.

The story is quite simple and straightforward: the postmaster’s son, Armand Roulin (played by Douglas Booth), is tasked to deliver Van Gogh’s last letter to his brother Theo – a simple task made complicated by Theo’s death a year after Vincent’s, leaving the letter with no recipient. Roulin the Younger goes on a journey to find the person most worthy to receive the letter, a journey which turns into an investigation on why Van Gogh (played by Robert Gulaczyk) ultimately killed himself.

Disregard the Nancy Drew plotline and look harder into the flashback scenes (done in beautiful black and white), and you’ll see the tragic painter struggling with his own personal demons in a world that doesn’t understand – something that is all the more relevant in today’s discourse about mental health.

But through his pain, he produced some of the most beautiful pieces of art of all time. If Loving Vincent leaves you wanting more storywise, this writer suggests watching “Vincent and the Doctor,” a Dr. Who episode that aired in 2010 that packs an emotional punch. Dr. Black (Bill Nighy), a fictional curator of the Museé d’Orsay, says of the tragic genius: “He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. … Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence our world, no one has ever done it before. Perhaps, no one ever will again.”

Still, Loving Vincent is a visual triumph made even more sumptuous by the use of Van Gogh’s paintings either to establish a shot or introduce a character.

Watch out for Wheatfield with Crows (1890), Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890), Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888), Marguerite Gachet at the Piano (1890), and, of course, The Starry Night (1889), among many other paintings.

And please do stay for the credits and hear a haunting rendition of Vincent sung by Lianne La Havas just to home in the point of how Loving Vincent was painfully beautiful, much like the life of the beloved painter.