If there ever was a film that was truly a labour of love it would be “Loving Vincent”. A biographical drama about the life and death of the person considered to be the father of modern art, Vincent Van Gogh. To put this into perspective, the film is an experimental adult animation with each of the 65,000 frames being an actual oil on canvas painting in the very distinct Van Gogh style. These paintings were done by a total of 125 painters from over 20 countries. Production was done through rotoscoping which involves using both live-action filming and, in this case, actual painting. The 2017 project took more than six years and, in my opinion, the film was worth every minute of it.
The film follows the accounts of the events surrounding Van Gogh’s suicide from the people who were close to him or around him at the time. It follows a young man Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) who is sent by his father Postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd) to deliver a letter Vincent intended to send to his brother, Theo . When Armand gets to Paris, he learns from an art supplier, Pere Tanguy (John Sessions), that Theo died six months after Vincent. He then goes to Auvers seeking to find Vincent’s psychiatrist, Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn). In Auvers, he interacts with the locals and finds out about Vincent’s life which opens up undiscovered dimensions to one of the greatest artists of all time.
Apart from the impeccable visual artistry of this feature film, directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, the storytelling and dialogue is also deeply heartbreaking. The writers take us through Vincent’s last days with such intimacy. Vincent Van Gogh is known to have battled with mental illnesses for most of his life. Despite all the chaos in his life and mind, he always tried to find the silver lining, even when “days felt like weeks”. As Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan), the daughter of Dr. Gachet said : he always tried to appreciate and love the delicate beauty of everything, nothing was too small or too subtle. I think every person struggling to get mental wellness gets to a point where they must learn to be immensely grateful for the small things. Despite the confusion that the fast-paced world consistently feeds into our lives, we must learn to shut it out and focus on our small joys.
This film is also of such great importance in the world of art and creativity, or should be, because of how it seamlessly shows the ability and significance of merging different art forms. In one single sweep, art and film brought forth such an exquisite tribute to Vincent Van Gogh’s life. On top of that, the score done by Clint Mansell made the emotions so much more overwhelming. “Loving Vincent” also shows that sometimes for something to be revolutionary, it takes a lot of patience in the exercise of creating it. As artists and creatives, we need to understand that what we’re making doesn’t obey our timelines, it just takes as long as it takes.
When Armand finally meets Dr. Gachet, the doctor informs him that he thinks Vincent insisted to the police that he had shot himself and no one was to blame because Vincent thought Gachet would be blamed. At the peak of a heated argument between the two, Vincent had called him a fraud because the doctor had pursued medicine instead of art, as he had wanted to. In retaliation, the doctor had told Vincent that the financial and emotional strain he was putting on Theo was the reason the health of his brother, who was in the tertiary stage of syphilis, was steadily deteriorating. The doctor believed this was why Van Gogh killed himself, because he felt like a burden. A feeling very familiar with people struggling with their mental health. Thoughts of how much easier the life of the caregivers would be in all aspects – financially, mentally, emotionally, and sometimes even physically – haunt their minds every day. To alleviate this, I strongly believe both the caregivers should be helped with support from groups of people going through the same and the ones being taken care of should be granted reassurance that despite the hardships that come with the situation, they are wanted, loved and deeply cared for.
This film was so precious to me for many reasons, some obvious and others I am still dissecting. And as an artist whose mind sometimes convinces me that my work and life is worthless, I will be taking away these words from Van Gogh’s many treasures : “Who am I in the eyes of most people? A nobody, a non entity. Well then even if that were all absolutely true, then one day I will have to show by my work what this nobody, this non entity has in his heart.”
And, without a doubt, he did.