Loving Vincent (4 stars)

Loving Vincent

Visually intoxicating, painstakingly crafted animation exploring the death of Vincent van Gogh

Billed as the first fully oil painted feature film, Loving Vincent is an unusual undertaking from directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. Taking over a hundred paintings by Vincent van Gogh as inspiration, they've constructed a murder mystery addressing whether the great artist took his own life. The idea provides fresh context for famous images like 'Wheatfield with Crows'; purists might argue that Loving Vincent distorts van Gogh's work by painting over live-action within his distinctive frames, but the result is visually intoxicating enough to make such qualms redundant.

The plot is propelled by one of the subjects of van Gogh's work. Douglas Booth plays Armand Roulin, sent by his postmaster father Joseph (Chris O'Dowd) to deliver a letter to the painter. In the aftermath of his apparent suicide, Armand attempts to investigate the case, questioning others who have sat for portraits, while a series of black and white flashbacks featuring Robert Gulaczyk as van Gogh recreate the period before his death.

It's arguable that such a specific, involved narrative reduces the meaning of the artist's masterpieces; an art gallery rather than a cinema is obviously the best place to appreciate his work. But, for most viewers, the seven years spent hand-painting the frames of Loving Vincent will pay off spectacularly through the lustrous appearance of the film; like Richard Linklater's luminous Waking Life, this film explores the possibilities of rotoscoping in an original way, with the story merely a peg to hang a huge technical achievement on.

With a score by Clint Mansell (Black Swan) and strong support from Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory and John Sessions, Loving Vincent has the pedigree of a prestige product. But, by tapping into the innate power of great art, Kobiela and Welchman's drama adds up to more than the novelty of its sumptuous parts.

Selected release from Fri 13 Oct.

Loving Vincent

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • UK / Poland
  • 1h 35min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Dorota Kobiela/Hugh Welchman
  • Cast: Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk
  • UK release: 13 October 2017

Armand Roulin (Booth) tries to find out what happened to the late artist Vincent can Gogh (Gulaczyk). Live action footage was hand-painted over to give a van Gogh-like effect, and the result is visually intoxicating, adding up more than the novelty of its sumptuous parts.