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Loving Vincent (2017) - hand-painted Van Gogh biography

Video review

Hand-painted film

Loving Vincent is the world’s first fully hand-painted feature film, involving 65,000 oil paintings on canvas created by over 100 artists. It is set shortly after Vincent Van Gogh’s untimely death - at the age of 37 - by a seemingly self-inflicted gunshot wound. Douglas Booth plays Armand Roulin, a young man tasked with delivering the last letter the artist wrote before his death to its intended recipient - his brother Theo. His attempts to track him down lead him to Pere Tanguy (John Sessions), an art dealer in Paris, who reveals that Theo’s health had deteriorated rapidly following Vincent’s death resulting in him, too, shuffling off the mortal coil.

Saoirse Ronan in Finding Vincent

Rather than give up and head home, however, Roulin decides to head for Vincent’s final resting place: Auvers-sur-Oise. The film follows his endeavours in questioning the small town’s various inhabitants. He finds that the stories surrounding both his death and his on/off relationships with the Gachet family - Doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn) and his daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan) differ radically depending on who he speaks to. Will he find out the truth about this enigmatic artist’s tragic end?

Watch a trailer:

A devastating artistic feat

Loving Vincent is certainly a remarkable achievement, with every frame painstakingly hand-painted in a style largely inspired by Van Gogh’s body of work. The characters within the film represent either actual historical figures from Van Gogh’s life or characters from his paintings, e.g. The Boatman (here played by Aidan Turner). They have also been painted to bear a considerable physical resemblance to the voice actors playing them.

The resulting effect is certainly beautiful, with the brush strokes used to animate effects such as lighting being particularly impressive. While reviews thus far have generally veered towards the positive some critics have complained that there isn’t enough substance in the story and characters. However, I feel that they are both highly incorrect and, quite frankly, missing the point. The true heart and soul of the film is in these passionately-crafted artistic images which warmly and vividly capture the essence of what Van Gogh was about. There’s a palpable humanity in the production’s conception which, arguably, could never be computer-generated.

Behind the artwork

The plot itself is a sort-of detective movie affair as Roulin follows various leads and questions people so as to get to the bottom of the events that led up to his demise. Okay, so on the face of it it may be considered a cliched way to tell a story, but to suggest that there is no substance in its construction would be untrue. It does, quite effectively, (figuratively) paint a picture of a lonely and troubled soul who was gifted with a rare ability to pick out the beauty of everyday people and rural landscapes - and an equally great gift in transferring it to the canvas. The film’s paintings visually respond in kind to his mindset and, in themselves, grant us a unique and devastating insight into the man. Clint Mansell’s emotive soundtrack also adds considerable impact to the piece.

Young Man with a Cornflower

Douglas Booth’s Roulin starts off as a bit of a blank slate of a protagonist but eventually builds a considerable emotional response to the surrounding events as he learns more about the enigmatic titular painter. In one sequence he defends a village retard (inspired by the red-headed character from Van Gogh’s painting Young Man with a Cornflower) from a trio of drunken bullies. It is clear that he sees part of Van Gogh’s own isolation from wider society in this unfortunate boy; a particularly resonant device considering that, in reality, the character is someone who has sprung from the artist’s creative mindset.

There’s an undeniable air of sadness to Loving Vincent which is both fitting and inevitable considering its tortured subject. As such, while the art itself is often majestically warm and inspiring, it’s not a film I would recommend as an antidepressant. However, as a one-of-a-kind look at what drives an artist’s creativity, it’s an absolute must.

Runtime: 94 mins

Dir: Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

Script: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Jacek Dehnel

Starring: Douglas Booth, Robert Gulaczyk, Cezary Lukaszewicz, Chris O'Dowd, John Sessions, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aidan Turner, Saoirse Ronan, Jerome Flynn

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Where is it showing in Edinburgh and Glasgow?

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