Loving Vincent ★★★

1st Dorota Kobiela, 1st Hugh Welchman

The consensus has this bang to rights- a fantastic visual accomplishment, but terribly hamstrung by the sentimental narrative and clumsy structure which seems preoccupied with erasing Van Gogh's history of mental illness. Largely taking their cues from Naifeh and Smith's 2011 biography of the artist, it imagines Armand Roulin delivering a letter of Van Gogh to Dr. Gachet, only to wind up playing detective unravelling the apparent conspiracy of silence around Van Gogh's death. Criticising the film's approach has its problems; there is evidence to suggest that Van Gogh was shot accidentally, and certainly the film goes some way to efface the old cliché about the mad artist and his tormented end. But the film pays lip service to Van Gogh's very real mental illness and the repeated bouts of depression he experienced. Treating Van Gogh as a character in a flashback only, the film ignores his inner life and turns him into a flat figure in a mystery. Those brilliant highs and excruciating lows almost function as red herrings in the film's schemata, and indirectly efface the very real experience of mental illness. And that's not talking about the uncomfortable screenplay. There's a lot of speeches delivered by various figures that are overly schematic and fact-heavy in their writing, which doesn't help the strange and awkward performances by all involved; Douglas Booth is particularly bad for it.

All these things do strangle what is an incredibly beautiful film. The film's much-trumpeted, entirely oil painted frames are perfect replications of Van Gogh's style. There's one particular sequence where we see a man's reflection through the window he's looking out of that must have taken months to get right. I absolutely need to see the documentary about the making of the film, it looks like a fascinating process. My one complaint is that sometimes it seems a little too cute and knowing an art style, especially the frames which almost directly quote Van Gogh visually. It feels too knowing, too showy, jarring quite badly with the attempts at a thoughtful and gentle emotional space. This film has a lot of potential, but it squanders it repeatedly.

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