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« Screen Supporting Actress Extraordinaire Sarah Paulson | Main | Review: "Justice League" »
Friday
Nov172017

The 2017 Animated Contenders: "Loving Vincent"

by Tim Brayton

Last week, we got word of the 26 films declared eligible for Best Animated Feature at the 90th Academy Awards. That means it's time for the Film Experience's not-quite-annual look at some of the animated contenders that don't have the high profile and financial backing of a big studio affair like Coco or Despicable Me 3. Some of these might possibly be within hunting distance of an Oscar nomination; some, sad to say, won't have a chance in hell. But they're all worthy of attention.

I picked our first subject, Loving Vincent, for no particular reason other than because it's been one of my most-anticipated and because it's done quite well at arthouse theaters suggesting a good deal of interest. As such, it's with some qualified disappointment that I come to tell you all that it's... definitely not great.

 I certainly won't say it's bad. But it's kind of startlingly uninteresting as a narrative. So let's not start by talking about it as a narrative...

The film bills itself as the first feature-length movie ever made entirely with paintings, which is just straight-up not true; it's not even true if we qualify that all the way down to "oil paintings". It is, however, quite a rarity: a film in which live-action reference footage was covered over by oil painters working on glass panes, re-creating the real-life footage in the style of famous, beloved Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh. Many of the scenes and virtually all of the characters are based directly on portraits van Gogh painted during his short, tempestuous life.

The effect of this, in motion, is almost literally indescribable. It's one thing to see the images in digital forms, like this GIF.

It's a very different thing altogether to see it in high-quality projection on a big screen, where it's not just highly stylized rotoscoping, like someone put a really elaborate filter on a photograph. It looks exactly like a whole lot of oil paintings – 65,000, they say, and the math checks out – that have been given life. I've been fortunate enough to see many of van Gogh's works in person, and there's something incredibly vital and kinetic about the way the paint lives on the canvas in his paintings: the thickness and texture of it is enough to make the work seem more three-dimensional than two-dimensional. That's exactly what the frames in Loving Vincent look like. You can see the paint, as a physical dimension of the image; and for that to flow smoothly in the illusion of movement is a genuinely original experience for me.

So long story short: if you care about Impressionist painting or animation at all, Loving Vincent is essential viewing, and that's that. If you care about human drama, it's maybe less clear-cut. The film is a Citizen Kane-style investigation into the strange facts of the painter's apparent suicide, in which the postman Roulin (Chris O'Dowd), of Arles, a dear friend of Vincent's, badgers his son Armand (Douglas Booth) into trying to deliver a long-lost letter to Vincent's brother Theo. This snowballs into a series of interviews as Armand shifts from trying to track down the dead Theo to trying to figure out what actually happened that summer afternoon in Auvers-sur-Oise.

This isn't the worst idea in the world, but filmmakers Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman don't do much with it at all. It's a dry, talky film, weirdly overpopulated with Irish and English accents for a story of a Dutch painter in France, made substantially on Polish money. Compounding the problem, most of the interviews are basically redundant with each other, all variations on the theme of "people living in 19th Century France sure didn't have the vocabulary to discuss the extreme emotional states of people suffering from bipolar disorder, did they", which isn't really the stuff of an extraordinarily gripping drama.

Not that any of that was the point. This is, both as a narrative and an aesthetic object, an unabashed love letter to Vincent van Gogh, with a healthy side of justifiable pride in the enormous quantity of labor it took the 115 painters to make this film (both the opening and close of the film flag the film's act of creation as the most interesting thing about it). And that is a good artist to love, and a fine thing to be proud of, and by no stretch of the imagination do I regret seeing Loving Vincent: it's easily the single most beautiful movie I've seen in 2017. Just don't expect much in the way of a story to get in the way of all that beauty, and you'll be fine.

 

Reviews of other eligible Animated Oscar Contenders
In this Corner of the World (Japan) reviewed by Tim Brayton 
The Big Bad Fox (France) reviewed by Tim Brayton
Coco (US) reviewed by Jorge Molina
The Girl Without Hands (France) reviewed by Tim Brayton
The Breadwinner (Ireland/Canada/Luxembourg) reviewed by Nathaniel 
The Emoji Movie (US) reviewed by Sean Donovan
The Boss Baby (US) reviewed by Nathaniel R
Smurfs: The Lost Village (US) reviewed by Tim Brayton
Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (US) reviewed by Tim Brayton

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Reader Comments (6)

I didn't care about the story, really. Pretty mediocre and not even consistent with the accents - Irish and English accents all jumbled up belonging to supposed members of the same family. But my God, it was the most visually ravishing experience I've had in a long time, maybe ever. I'd gladly go see it again just for that reason. With all its money, how come Hollywood can't take more chances like this?

November 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterken s

What other feature length movies have been made up of paintings? And are they worth seeing?

November 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSandy

Hmm, I really wanted to see this and still do...but sounds like it would be better with the sound off?

November 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

lylee.
It isn't better with the sound off for sure. The score (composed by Clint Mansell) is amazing!
.
It's not a perfect movie, but I was amazed by its visual beauty.
Such creative production should be recognized by the AMPAS.

November 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEd

Yeah. If the Oscar was for Best ANIMATION, then this would win hands down.

But as an Animated FEATURE......I go to cinema to be totally absorbed into another world. For this one, I just sat there (a.) admiring the animation, but (b.) simultaneously being distracted by it ("Oh look, there's Saiorse Ronan painted over" and the like).

November 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

Few stories break my heart like van Gogh's.so I was probably the best audience for it, but I basically echo Tim (though I think I liked it more).

November 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

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