PG-13 mainly because of subject matter. Vincent Van Gogh (probably) killed himself. A lot of this movie explores why someone would kill himself, which automatically puts it in a category of me not wanting to show my kids this movie until they are older. In terms of actual content, there is an unflattering word for "prostitute" that is thrown around once or twice, but I don't necessarily think that the language is anything to worry about. You can kind of see a painted version of Vincent Van Gogh's cut off ear and there is some mild violence. Oh, someone uses a crass version referring to male genitalia.
DIRECTORS: Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
One of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who (I can't help myself) is "Vincent and the Doctor." In this episode, the Doctor and Amy travel back to meet Vincent Van Gogh, subsequently pronounce his name correctly and teach me the proper pronunciation, and save him from a monster. But one of the running themes in the movie is that depression isn't simple. Vincent Van Gogh was clinically depressed and would kill himself, regardless of the pretty things that were shown him. I get a little teary eyed by the end of the episode. I like Van Gogh. I think my wife loves Van Gogh. But I've never been a learned scholar of art. I'm in the "I know what I like camp" and that's about as far as I've taken it. The story of Vincent Van Gogh is not interesting because he was a talented painter. I find the world of Van Gogh interesting because he was a genius who dealt with bitter depression and that he never knew his genius in his lifetime. Loving Vincent is (pun intended) a love letter to Vincent Van Gogh that teeters on the line of something very dangerous.
What almost breaks and simultaneously makes the movie is that the story is almost presented as a murder investigation. Armand Roulin, portrayed by Douglas Booth, has been tasked with delivering Vincent Van Gogh's final letter to his brother, Theo, who is also dead. In the process, he aims to discover why Vincent Van Gogh killed himself. Over the course of the film, sometimes presented slightly Rashomon-style, he and the audience are led to believe that perhaps Vincent was murdered. This isn't way off the mark. Immediately after watching the movie, I did some Google searching and there are some seemingly credited scholars who forensically believe that Van Gogh was murdered. It isn't out of the ballpark. If this is true, yes, it should come to light. But there are also many people who say that Vincent Van Gogh committed suicide and that there is also evidence that supports that. The murder mystery makes the movie compelling. There's something to watch. At times, the movie feels a bit like a self-aware museum piece, discussing the history of Van Gogh with characters who are almost instructing. I'll get to that later. But the murder mystery gives the movie a real story. Instead of just looking at the character of Van Gogh, the murder gives the viewer something to examine and participate in. This might be the worst comparison I've made on this blog, but it could be a very watered down version of Zodiac. This is an unsolved mystery that will most likely stay unsolved. But presenting all of the facts at least gives people theories on which way to go. I like and hate this. In terms of storytelling, it was the right choice to make. There isn't much a dramatization of Vincent Van Gogh's life because it would just be a guy who was sad the whole movie. But it also slightly diminishes the mental illness that Van Gogh dealt with on a daily basis. I have to give the filmmakers some props. They do acknowledge often that Van Gogh was deeply troubled. It examines the ups and downs of personality disorders and says that he very well may have committed suicide. But the very idea of him being murdered is kind of conspiratorial. I remember when there was the spread of the conspiracy that Shakespeare never existed. People still hold to that idea today. I know that, regardless, Van Gogh's life was troubled. But I don't want to pull away from the idea that mental illness needs a support system and it seems like really shaky ground to mettle with. The filmmakers walked the tightrope as well as they could, but I don't know if I would have touched it had I the choice.
I mentioned that this kind of felt like a museum piece and I think that might be the movie's real weak spot. When I say "museum piece", I'm referring to low-budget reenactments that were never really meant to be considered traditional films. There is some major talent in this movie. Between Chris O'Dowd and Saoirse Ronan (who actually delivers way better than she did in Lady Bird), there is some legitimacy to the movie. But the thing that really hurts it is that the filmmakers really relied on the rotoscoping to sell the movie. I was going to have this whole section on how beautiful the painting is and that the rotoscoping looks fantastic. It really does. The painting look to the movie is what drew attention to the movie and I can't blame them. But the directors kind of knew that. They were making the first oil painting movie and every frame was going to look like a Van Gogh painting. That's a cool idea. The problem is that the film wasn't shot like a movie. It often felt hampered by its own idea. There is just a perfect storm of problems that occur with the concept of making every frame a Van Gogh. They used Van Gogh's actual paintings for locations in the film. This really limits the world. There's no playfulness with the camera. Rather, it almost seems like the characters are reverse Roger Rabbited into the movie. It's that style of greenscreen acting that just looks so artificial. I don't think that it necessarily a rotoscoping problem. I remember A Scanner Darkly being really cool with the camera movement. But that style of filmmaking is still heavily based on a gimmick. The film is serving the gimmick. The gimmick is cool. I will never deny that. But the movie is just jumping from location to location and being super economical with their shots. They know that every frame has to be painted over, which means that it has that old school, predigital logic of not wasting a single frame. That's cool in some ways, but also it means playing it extremely safe with every single shot. Every shot has purpose and that can't be the best attitude to have when making a movie. Like most gimmicky visual masterpieces, there is a weak spot. In the case of Loving Vincent, it is the actual direction. Don't let the prettiness do all of the heavy lifting. Make the best gosh darn movie possible and then make it super pretty.
I watched the movie twice (kind of). The second time I was pretty distracted. I really like the movie and I do think that it is a fun experiment. But this is almost more about the experiment than the actual movie itself. Not to be treading into blasphemous territory, but the movie had elements of the Star Wars prequels that were not the best. The concept of meeting the various people in Vincent's paintings was an interesting one. I think it is a cool concept and works on paper (or canvas). But it got to be like a big ol' cameo show. How is the next person going to be integrated. Instead of living characters, we kind of got archetypes. The exception to this generality was Saoirse Ronan's Margaurite Gachet and Jerome Flynn's Dr. Gachet. So really, just the Gachets. These characters had rich storylines and were integral to the plot. It didn't hurt that they are both remarkable actors who gave their characters a wealth of complexity, but the stories really revolved around these two. The other characters were almost forced into the story. Even Armand is a bit of a waste. There is an attempt to give him depth with his initial annoyance with his task, but this is only skin deep and I'm a little bummed out about it. Some of my favorite detective stories are when the detective himself is as complex as the story he is unfolding. Armand is simply an avatar for the viewer. He is a blank slate (kind of pun intended because I avoided the canvas thing again) when he could be something far more. There's a moment when Armand bursts out in anger and reveals his big theory about how Vincent died. It felt really tacked on to the character and just a bad choice. He had done little to earn that outburst, so when it came, it just felt cheap. Again, I think this isn't the actor's fault so much as it is the directors' faults. There is this rush to get the story out that the character development isn't as solid as it really needed to be.
This is a fun experience and an emotional look into Vincent Van Gogh's life. It is moving, but it isn't full. I think I heard about this from a viral video on Facebook a few years ago and that is kind of the same depth that I give the film as a whole. I acknowledge that the movie is absolutely gorgeous looking and I'm so glad that I've seen it. The story is a pretty smart one, but I don't think it was the one I would want to tell. But the direction is remarkably blah. It is safe and uninspired. It's so odd to see one element of the film succeed only to have another element simply checking off boxes. I might revisit this one in a couple of years to see if I can watch it outside of the context of the Academy Awards, but I think that there is some extra lifting that needs to be done with the movie.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.