With animated films, the years of work that go into each one’s production prompts a strong desire from aware viewers for content worthy of the artistic effort.
In the case of something as painstakingly made as Loving Vincent, that wish grows exponentially — and is thankfully fulfilled as the narrative largely keeps up with the stunning visuals.
Before the film begins, directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman elevate expectations by crediting a team of over 100 artists. (IMDb lists 127 people in the animation department while auxiliary reports reveal that most of this crew segment are classically trained oil painters and that they made a combined 65,000 frames.)
The animators’ efforts are immediately evident as real-life figures from Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings are brought to life, reflect on the recently departed artist and attempt to discern precisely how he met his demise.
While art aficionados will reap the benefits of identifying the famous faces as Loving Vincent progresses, the sights and narrative are compelling enough that general audiences can go with the flow — then fill in the blanks with a complete guide of the works and their animated recreations once the end credits roll.
Told through gorgeous rotoscoping, the film follows wayward young adult Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) as he’s tasked by his nautically-bearded postman father Joseph (Chris O’Dowd) with delivering a letter from the late Vincent to his brother Theo.
The simple transaction becomes a good deal more complicated than Armand expected and turns the quick trek into a prolonged, minor detective story. The presence of a traditionally flawed, largely ill-equipped amateur lead investigator makes the tale a more relatable one, and even under a layer of moving paint it’s easily Booth’s finest hour so far.
As Armand makes his way to the site of Vincent’s death in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, and interviews people who encountered the painter in his final days, the film’s late-life inquiry results in a paltry examination of Vincent’s methods or what made him a great artist — if either is indeed the filmmakers’ goal.
However, there’s an excellent argument that the unification of Vincent’s paintings in animated form says more about his talent and mindset than any explanation could.
These poetic meditations mesh nicely with black and white flashbacks from such figures as a kindly boatman (Aidan Turner, The Hobbit), Vincent’s possible lover Marguerite Gachet (Saoirse Ronan) and Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), the daughter of the proprietor of the inn where Vincent stayed, and both color and monochrome scenes receive a boost from Clint Mansell’s soulful score.
Comparisons to Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly are inevitable, and though Loving Vincent doesn’t quite match the transcendent content and artistic synchronization of those iconic works, it’s operating on its own plane and warrants praise for standing apart from those predecessors.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG. Now playing at the Fine Arts Theatre
(Photo: Good Deed Entertainment)