Loving Vincent


Year: 2017

Certificate: 12

Director: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman

Writer: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman

Starring: Douglas Booth, Chris O'Dowd, Saoirse Ronan

Is Loving Vincent Any Good?

No matter what you think of Loving Vincent, it is hard not to fall completely in love with its visual style. The oil-painted animation is entirely unique and a great achievement that manages to truly capture a sense of Van Gogh’s art. This is not merely a gimmick but actually in itself is integral to the story, as we try and unravel the essence of a man after his death, through vague facts from his life, but most importantly the unchangeable truth within his work.

If there’s one real downside to the film, it is the slightly formulaic murder-mystery investigation in which son-of-a-friend Armand Roulin, attempts to deliver a letter to the Van Gogh family. During this time, he encounters various people from the final years of Van Gogh’s life, slowly discovering more about the man and the circumstances of his death, as one encounter gives a piece of information before directly leading onto the next encounter. It is undeniable that this gives a highly entertaining learning experience, but when you take it as a movie rather than an educational film, it seems to slightly lack some heart.

Moments of genuine excitement and emotion come from the progress of Armand as an individual. Arguably it is the time consuming animation process that has naturally limited limited the length of the film and means there are so few of these moments, allowing more time to ruminate on the Van Gogh’s personal history. That said, it is hard to possibly imagine a better film if you want to get a true sense of the motives and ideas behind one of the most renowned artists of all time within an hour and a half, through a truly beautiful medium that is worth the ticket price alone.

"You are not one of those dealers in men, as far as I know, and you can take sides, I find, truly acting with humanity, but what is the use?"

How was Loving Vincent Animated?

The most instantly noticeable thing about Loving Vincent is the fact that it is the first ever fully painted feature film. That is to say, where there have been animations before it, no other film has used hundreds of oil paintings on canvas to create a whole movie. Loving Vincent contains 65,000 individual frames, which had to be meticulously created by a team of 115 fine artists who were retrained to become artist/animators.

An artist would paint a full oil painting, taking anywhere between half a day and three days, before moving, layering or scraping off the paint to create each frame. Every twelve frames painted represents only a second in the film, meaning even the slightest character movements required painstaking re-painting and re-painting.

The artists were not basing their work on storyboards as you would usually do in animation however. Instead, the actors who provided their voices to the movie were filmed acting out the scenes on basic sets, which could then be used to form the basis of each frame. This technique is called rotoscoping and has previously been used in films such as Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly and the 2016 documentary Tower, but never with oil painting, managing to still give the film a very cinematic sense.

The Funding and Kickstarter of Loving Vincent

The production of Loving Vincent cannot be particularly described as regular for the movie industry. It began when painter and animator Dorota Kobiela was attempting to create a 7-minute short about Van Gogh’s final days, funded by Kickstarter. While running the Kickstarter she met producer Hugh Welchman who became interested in the idea. They both saw the huge interest there is in the letters of Van Gogh and saw it as a potential basis for a longer story.

However to create a full length painted feature of this magnitude, much more than a Kickstart was needed. In the end, the rather reasonably budget of $5.5 million was made up of 40% from pre-sales, 40% from private equity, 15% from government funding, such as the Polish Film Institute, City of Wroclaw and UK Tax Credit, as well as 5% from the production house Break Thru, itself.

Was Van Gogh Murdered?

The very final moments of Van Gogh’s life have come under scrutiny from many people, primarily due to there being no witnesses to his suicide, the gun never having been found and his generally balanced mental state before it took place. The testimony of Adeline Ravoux is one of the key documents, describing her memories of the day, along with the accounts of her father, who she describes as a very reliable man.

She describes how Van Gogh was quiet during his time there, but reliable and without trouble, generally being pleasant to those he interacted with and playing with the youngest Ravoux daughter every night. It is by this, that questions of his suicide are often raised, however by modern standards it is easy to suppose that mental problems leading to suicide would not have ever needed to manifest themselves visibly to those around him.

She reports that when he entered wounded, he stated “I have tried to kill myself”, while when later interviewed by the Gendarmerie, ascertained “do not accuse anybody, it is I that wished to commit suicide”. Despite potential doubt being thrown on these comments, it seems incredibly unlikely that with these and his lifelong documented struggles, that anything other than suicide would be the cause.

Is Loving Vincent a True Story?

The story is mainly seen from the view of Armand Roulin, and it is true that his father was an acquaintance of Van Gogh, with all of his family being painted by the artist. The letter delivery and investigation is fabricated however, allowing the story to be told from a fairly neutral character who, unlike many in the film, does not start off with a distinct opinion of the man. Most of the other characters were acquaintances of Van Gogh’s however, with many of their documented opinions of the man being conveyed.

Van Gogh did stay in a small room in the Ravoux Inn in the town of Auvers-sur-Oise, towards the end of his life. Adeline Ravoux, the eldest daughter of the family was painted by him on several occasions, although neither her nor her family appreciated his work at the time. As a septuagenarian she wrote a memoir of his stay, which forms many of the details known about his final years, along with his many letters to his brother Theo. These accounts along with many more, offer often slightly contradictory versions of events, however these are played out against one another in the film, resulting in, as far as we’ll ever be able to tell, the full version of events.

"How does a man
go from calm,
to suicidal,
in six weeks?"

The Loving Vincent Exhibition

Following the world premiere of the film, the Dutch Het Noordbarbants museum announced their special exhibition based around the film which is to be held from 14th October 2017 to 28th January 2018, showcasing over 70 of the original paintings that made up the film. It will offer visitors a truly insightful look at how the film was made and how the paintings were brought to life, including a green screen that allows guests to step into a Van Gogh painting.

It is planned that the exhibition may also tour, so keep your eyes open to see if it will be visiting a city near you.

How Close is the Animation in Loving Vincent to actual Van Gogh Paintings?

The animation in the film is done in a way to reflect the paintings and style of Van Gogh. They utilise the technique of impasto, where oil paints are heavily layered onto the canvas to create texture, and palette knife cuts and brush strokes still remain heavily visible. The film also reflects his bold use of colour and expressive brushwork, yet brings it into a new realm with animation.

Many of the characters in Loving Vincent are either real people who Van Gogh had painted, making it easy for the filmmakers to recreated them. Where there wasn’t this basis, they chose to use other fitting portraits of Van Gogh’s as the basis for the characters. Many of the scenes and backgrounds were also done in this way, with the opening scenes in the bar being taken from Van Gogh’s The Night Cafe, his bedroom being a reflection of the perspectively warped Bedroom in Arles, while many of his landscapes from the countryside around Auvers-sur-Oise.

Although impossible to directly reflect the work, what is given is a brilliant collage, creating a unique world which gives an unparalleled insight into his artwork. One aspect that is arguably most changed, is many of the characters and backdrops in the film are arguably far more refined and less wild than Van Gogh’s originals. Undoubtedly, this was a conscious decision necessary to make animation easier and not to give the film a psychedelic vertiginous feel of warping perspectives and sizes.

The Cast of Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent features a plethora of great actors, who not only lent their voices but also their movements to the animation. The photos opposite show the process.

Van Gogh’s original paintings of the real life people were used as the basis of many of the corresponding characters, while the characters who had never been painter were inspired by Van Gogh’s other paintings, as the left paintings show.

The actors were then dressed and styled as the paintings and filmed against green screens as seen in the central photos.

Once this was complete, paintings of the actors were made, in the style of the original paintings, to form the basis of the animation for the films. This completed product is shown in the final panels, and it was these that managed to bring to life Van Gogh’s wild portraits, while still capturing real human motion.

The cast includes:

  • Douglas Booth as Armand Roulin
  • Chris O'Dowd as Postman Joseph Roulin
  • Saoirse Ronan as Marguerite Gachet
  • Eleanor Tomlinson as Adeline Ravoux
  • Aidan Turner as The Boatman
  • Helen McCroy as Louise Chevallier
  • Jerome Flynn as Doctor Gachet
  • John Sessions as Pete Tanguy
  • Robert Gulaczyk as Vincent Van Gogh
  • Helen McCrory as Louise Chevalier
  • James Greene as Old Man
  • Bill Thomas as Dr Mazery
  • Martin Herdman as Gendarme Rigaumon
  • Robin Hodges as Lieutenant Milliet
  • Josh Burdett as Zouave
  • Holly Earl as La Mousme
  • Joe Stuckey as Idiot Boy