2017. 94 minutes. Rated PG-13.
“I feel absolutely calm and in a normal state. That’s what he writes me, six weeks before he is dead. How does a man go from being absolutely calm to suicidal in six weeks?”
I am not unique, it seems, in naming Vincent van Gogh (portrayed by Robert Gulaczyk) as my favorite artist. Opening with a gut-shot van Gogh stumbling into a local inn, the world’s first oil-painted feature-length film uses the artist’s work to examine the circumstances of his death. When Postman Joseph Roulin (voiced by Chris O’Dowd) repeatedly receives an undeliverable letter from Vincent to his beloved brother, Theo, he sends his son, Armand Roulin (voiced by Douglas Booth), on a reluctant mission to deliver the letter by hand to Theo and find out what really happened to Vincent. Armand is a reluctant detective, not much caring for his father’s erratic erstwhile drinking companion. After having witnessed Vincent on the night he cut off his ear, Armand can all too easily imagine the unstable Vincent taking his own life. But his father insists, so he heads to Paris, where he finds no sign of Theo.
In Paris, Pere Tanguy (voiced by John Sessions), the paint seller reveals that not only Vincent has died, but that his beloved brother Theo died shortly after him. Pere then shocks Armand by revealing that Vincent wasn’t some delusional loner and was actually famous among the artistic elite in Paris. Pere cannot fathom why Vincent would commit suicide when he seemed to be on the brink of stardom. So he directs Armand on to Auvers, the scene of the crime, to seek answers from Vincent’s eccentric doctor at the end, Dr Gachet (voiced by Jerome Flynn). The doctor is away on business, but several townspeople speak with Armand, offering insight into Vincent’s character.
Distressingly, innkeeper’s daughter Adeline Ravoux (voiced by Eleanor Tomlinson) is distraught that Dr. Paul Gachet, a military doctor, with experience with such wounds, determines nothing can be done and leaves Vincent to die. The doctor’s daughter, Marguerite Gachet (voiced by Saorise Ronan), is frosty at the idea that her father was at fault for Vincent’s death, but advises not to believe a word the Gachets say.
Armand visits the scene of the crime and is startled by a playful boy who resembled van Gogh; he chases–and loses–in town, where he bumps into an old man who says that he heard a gun shot that was close by, and the police didn’t recover either a weapon or painting supplies. In a later conversation, we learn Marguarite was discouraged from spending time with–and distracting–Vincent by her frustrated painter father, and they had a falling out (though, not over her). When Armand finally catches up with Dr. Gachet, he confides that Vincent had told him he was to blame for his accident, and no one else, because Vincent felt the argument they’d had made the doctor a suspect.
In spite of feeling like he didn’t fit in, lack of financial success, and suffering some setbacks and heartbreaks, van Gogh was reportedly in a calm frame of mind, and left no suicide note. He even placed a large order for paint right before his death. There is new evidence to suggest van Gogh didn’t kill himself. Armand suggests it seems a long way to walk with a belly wound and a second doctor suggests the angle of the bullet was too low–he would have had to shoot himself with his outstretched toe.
Director Dorota Kobiela’s fine arts background informs the look of the movie, filmed in live action and then hand-painted frame by frame. I cannot say enough about how beautiful this film is: the play of moonlight on grass, the sun on rippling water are luminous. Such attention to detail was paid that the Shadow of Armand website reports that 65,000 paintings were created and filmed and describes the fascinating process at http://lovingvincent.com/the-paintings,2,pl.html.
The film concludes with a lovely cover of Don MacLean’s hit song “Starry Night” and an illustrated cast list with quotes from each character.