The process of animating over the top of pre-shot footage (rotoscoping) is a procedure that has existed since the dawn of cinema, most notably applied recently by Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life). Loving Vincent pushes the envelope further, with Directors Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela (and an army of artists) making the technically ambitious decision to turn their film into a Van Gogh oil painting through the arduous process of hand painting each frame. While some might find this a painstaking exercise in gimmickry, there is little doubt that the result is an immersive experience, nudging you ever closer to the work of the famous Dutch painter. Certainly, Loving Vincent is a film where you could hang any one of its overwhelming 65,000 frames on your wall—although at twelve frames per second, the resulting animation takes a little adjustment.
The film investigates the months leading up to Vincent Van Gogh’s death. Postmaster’s son Roulin (Douglas Booth) has been charged with the task of delivering Vincent Van Gogh’s posthumous letter to his now late brother, Theo. Upon arriving in the Parisian suburb of Auvers-sur-Oise, home to a close companion of Vincent, Roulin discovers that the locals have conflicting accounts of Vincent’s apparent “suicide”. The mysterious events surrounding Vincent’s death become a fascination for Roulin as he sleuths his way around the town looking very much like a gumshoe wanting to crack a murder case.
Van Gogh aficionados will be quick to point out that each character is inspired by, or in some cases is the actual subject of, Van Gogh’s paintings—and although this bolsters the authenticity of the film, it is somewhat jarring to see very recognisable actors playing these parts. An unmistakable Jerome Flynn (Bron, from Game of Thrones) in oil on canvas feels a little odd at first, but you soon get used to it.
It is evident that writing is not Welchman and Kobiela’s strength and the beautiful visuals, unfortunately, can’t hide a screenplay which feels at times trite and stagey. Nonetheless, Loving Vincent remains a visually unique film that piques enough narrative intrigue to be worth watching.
Read the full review for the NZ Herald here.