No other artist has attracted more attention than Vincent van Gogh. Variously labelled a martyr, a lustful satyr, a madman, a genius and a layabout, the real Vincent is at once revealed in his letters, and obscured by myth and time. Bringing to life the paintings of the artist to tell his remarkable story, Loving Vincent is the world’s first fully painted feature film to be produced.
France, Summer 1891. Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth – Jupiter Ascending, Noah), a feckless and directionless young man, is given a letter by his father, Postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd – Bridesmaids, The IT Crowd), to hand-deliver to Paris. He is to deliver it to the brother of his father’s friend Vincent van Gogh who, they have just heard, killed himself.
Armand is none too pleased with the mission: he is embarrassed by his father’s association with Vincent, a foreign painter who cut off his ear and was committed to the local asylum. In Paris there is no trace of the brother. Armand’s search leads him to the paint supplier, Pere Tanguy (John Sessions – Filth, Gangs of New York), who tells him that the brother died shortly after Vincent, apparently destroyed by the death of his older brother.
Pere recounts how the brother helped Vincent on this incredible transformation from a down-and-out at 28 who had failed at three careers and was living in a barn in the mining district of the Borinage in Belgium with a bunch of books and no idea what to do next, to the new artistic sensation of Paris at the time of his death 10 years later.
After hearing this story Armand believes he may have misjudged his father’s friend, and really wants to know why, after such struggle, Vincent chose the moment of impending success to take his life: Pere has no answer to this.
Armand journeys on to Vincent’s final destination, the quiet village of Auvers-sur-Oise, an hour outside Paris, to meet Doctor Paul Gachet (Jerome Flynn – Game of Thrones), Vincent’s doctor in his final weeks, to find the answer. The doctor is away for couple of days. Armand resolves to wait, during which time the villagers tell him different theories of why Vincent took his life and who is to blame.
While in Auvers-sur-Oise Armand stays at the Ravoux Inn, where Vincent stayed for the last 10 weeks of his life, and where on 29th July 1890 he died of a bullet wound to his abdomen. Here Armand meets the Inn-keeper’s daughter, Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson – Poldark, Jack the Giant Slayer).
While he awaits Doctor Gachet’s return, Armand also interviews Doctor Gachet’s housekeeper, Louise Chevalier (Helen McCrory – Harry Potter), the Doctor’s daughter, Marguerite Gachet (Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn, Atonement), and by the river where Vincent often spent his days he meets the Boatman (Aidan Turner – The Hobbit, Poldark).
Armand gets the sense that the truth is being hidden from him, and feels like a pawn in overlapping village feuds. Armand is determined to root out the truth, for his father, for Vincent’s memory, and for himself. A run in with the local police, an unexpected encounter with a second Doctor, and finally his much-anticipated meeting with the mercurial Doctor Gachet, lead to unexpected and heart-rending revelations, but also to Armand understanding and appreciating the passionate and surprising life of Vincent van Gogh.
Written & directed by Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman, Loving Vincent was first shot as a live action film with actors then hand-painted over frame-by-frame in oils. The final effect is an interaction of the performance of the actors playing Vincent’s famous portraits, and the performance of the painting animators, bringing these characters into the medium of paint.
Every frame of the film, totalling around 65,000, is an oil-painting hand-painted by 125 professional oil-painters who travelled from around the world to the Loving Vincent studios in Poland and Greece to be a part of the production. As remarkable as Vincent’s brilliant paintings, is his passionate and ill-fated life, and mysterious death.
Despite the film being animated, all of the characters in Loving Vincent are played by actors. These actors worked either on sets specially constructed to look like Van Gogh paintings, or against green-screens, with the Van Gogh paintings being composited in, along with computer generated animation, after the shoot.
The live action shoot took place at Three Mills Studios in London and CETA studio in Wroclaw. The experienced film crew included cinematographers Lukasz Zal (Oscar nominated for Ida) and Tristan Oliver (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Chicken Run). The footage from the live action shoot then becomes the reference footage for the painting-animators.
As Vincent himself said in his last letter: “We cannot speak other than by our paintings’. We take him at his word and let the paintings tell the real story of Vincent van Gogh.”
Loving Vincent is screening in cinemas nationally. For more information, visit: www.lovingvincent.com.au for details.
Image: Loving Vincent (film still) ©