Douglas Booth in Loving Vincent (2017)

Created in the style of van Gogh’s paintings, LOVING VINCENT matches extraordinary visual style with richly satisfying storytelling

Mystery and art combine in Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s new film LOVING VINCENT, the world’s first fully painted feature film about the life and death of the famous Dutch painter.

Taking place a year after Vincent van Gogh’s death, LOVING VINCENT follows Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) as he sets out to deliver Vincent’s final letter to his brother, Theo, unware that he’s also dead. Curious about its contents, Armand embarks on a journey to meet the people Vincent knew in his final few months to investigate what exactly occurred to cause van Gogh to take his own life. Did the painter really kill himself or did something more sinister happen?

Bold, ambitious and visually stunning, LOVING VINCENT combines extraordinary visual style with richly satisfying storytelling to deliver the world’s first fully painted feature film. The semi-fictional story with its CITIZEN KANE-like script cleverly incorporates a menagerie of characters, from van Gogh’s doctor Paul Gachet (Jerome Flynn) and his daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan), to the Boatman (Aidan Turner) and the innkeeper’s daughter Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), into the fictional murder / suicide story to deliver a fresh insight into van Gogh’s life and a poetic sense of tragedy to his last act.

The biggest appeal of LOVING VINCENT isn’t the story but the art. Painstakingly made over the course of seven years, every one of the 65,000 frames is hand-painted by over 100 professional oil-painters. Originally shot as live action with real actors, each frame was then hand-painted in oils to deliver a bold and immersive piece of cinema which sees the characters and backdrops of van Gogh’s paintings come to life on screen in his signature vibrant colours.

Aidan Turner in Loving Vincent (2017)

Yet, as mesmerizing the artwork is, the filmmakers’ decision to cast real actors – many of them recognizable – serves more as a distraction than an advantage. In capturing the features of the real-life actors, the playfulness and striking style of van Gogh is lost a little on the way and while one cannot deny the talents of Saorise Ronan, Chris O’Dowd, and Jerome Flynn, you can’t help but feel that casting less recognisable actors would’ve have been a better choice.

The same could also be said of the flashback scenes, which are painted in shades of black and white. Instead of adding the storyline, the images just look out of place in comparison to the rest of the film and only serve to stiffen the pacing.

That said, you can’t fault the boldness of LOVING VINCENT, or indeed the patience and passion of the filmmakers who worked incredibly hard to bring this film to life. If you weren’t a fan of van Gogh before LOVING VINCENT, you certainly will be after.

4 out of 5 stars

LOVING VINCENT screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 10 October 2017