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Review: Loving Vincent

October 7, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

At the start of Loving Vincent, a title card tells us that we are about to see the first ever fully hand painted feature film, crafted by a team of a hundred dedicated artists, many of whom spent years working on the film.

The result is an astonishing artistic achievement, an animated film that has the appearance of a living, breathing oil painting and pays tribute to the distinctive style of Vincent Van Gogh, with characters and landscapes modelled after his classic works.

The story takes place a year after the suicide of Vincent Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk), and follows Armand (Douglas Booth), the son of a postman (Chris O’Dowd), who is tasked with delivering a lost letter that the Dutch artist had written to his brother Theo.

When Armand discovers that Theo has also died, he journeys to Auvers-sur-Oise in France, where Vincent spent his final months as he struggled with mental illness, in hopes of delivering the letter to his psychiatrist Dr. Paul Gachet (Jerome Flynn).  While there, Armand comes into contact with people who encountered Vincent and all have stories to tell, including Gachet’s groundskeeper (Helen McRory) and his young adult daughter (Saoirse Ronan), an innkeeper (Eleanor Tomlinson) at the place where he stayed, and a man (Aidan Turner) who lent him a boat, leaving him struggling to piece together why the artist would suddenly take his own life.

The film is made up of a whopping 65,000 oil paintings, all done by hand, with twelve per second to give the illusion of motion.  We see slight imperfections and the changes in brush strokes between the frames, which really gives the images the feeling of coming alive.  They appear to breathe.  The film was first shot with the actors, and these scenes were projected onto the work surfaces, so the painters could use them as a guide.  They used oil paints, which take longer to dry, so that the parts of the image being animated could constantly be wiped away and repainted.  At the end of the film, they were left with a thousand finished paintings.

This is a remarkable undertaking by any account, and the rich colour palates and impressionistic style of the film are complimented by some gorgeously done black and white flashbacks that embrace a haunting and more photorealistic style.  Although the story itself follows a pretty standard biopic approach, and can feel a bit slow moving, the real reason to see Loving Vincent is for the visuals.  This is surely one of the most ambitious animated films you are going to see, and it offers a spectacular feast for the eyes.

Loving Vincent is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

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