Animation nerds — and of course there are such people — may be jazzed at the release of “Loving Vincent,” the first feature film made entirely of paintings.
The (sort of) biopic about Vincent van Gogh, from Europe-based BreakThru Films, comprises 65,000 frames hand-painted by a team of 125 artists, re-creating the style and many of the masterworks of the Dutch painter famed for prefiguring modern art … and for disfiguring himself by amputating his own ear, then committing suicide.
Visually you can certainly call the film a breakthrough. Gooey gobs of oil paint flicker and flash with every movement onscreen, rendering literal the vibrational impact of van Gogh’s post-Impressionist brushstrokes. But because writer-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman used a rotoscope technique — basing the paintings on live-action footage shot with actors — the stylized images carry a natural human warmth.
There is nothing innovative about the storytelling, though. It’s a basic mystery. A restless young Frenchman named Armand (Douglas Booth, with a London accent) is asked by his father to deliver a letter by the recently deceased painter to his brother. When Armand discovers that the brother, too, has died, he journeys on to the village of Auvers-sur-Oise to meet Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn), who cared for van Gogh in the weeks after the ear-slicing incident.
Increasingly curious about the painter’s death, Armand talks with a friendly innkeeper, a garrulous boatman and Gachet’s daughter and housekeeper, who all give conflicting accounts rendered in black-and-white flashbacks. Eventually the investigation veers into Oliver Stone territory. Without getting into details, let’s just say they might just as well have titled the film “VVG.”
The gorgeous animation alone makes “Loving Vincent” worth the price of admission. And the narrative, if a bit paint-by-numbers, is interesting enough. But since the subject of the film (played by Robert Gulaczyk) exists only as memories, the result is a character sketch that falls short of a full portrait. Regardless of how he died, van Gogh’s character, and the character of his genius, remain a mystery.
Kerry Lengel, USA TODAY Network
Good Deed Entertainment presents a film written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. Rated PG-13 (for mature thematic elements, some violence, sexual material and smoking). Running time: 94 minutes. Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.