Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Loving Vincent

(Poland, UK, USA, 2017)

Pixar Studios have no greater fan than I, and I thought Coco was a terrific film. But this is the one that probably should have won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Probably. I’m pretty sure. The thing is, Coco, though it was gorgeous and stunningly detailed, didn’t show me anything new. This one does. It is made from 65,000 oil paintings!

No kidding, they employed 125 painters (out of 5,000 auditioned, partly through a Kickstarter campaign) to bring the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh to life. They painted in his style, so we see them come to life. I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, where I saw their collection of 200 paintings, but can’t call myself an expert. Still, even a guy like me knows the chaotic Wheatfield With Crows, The Night Café, Café Terrace at Night, Road With Cypress, and of course The Starry Night. These images come to life, twisting and changing perspective as people move through them. The lights scintillate. Everything is constantly shifting. I also know many of his still lifes, many of which appear here, and some of his portraits. All the characters in the movie are people he actually painted. They existed, and looked like this.

It was made possible by having actors perform in front of green screens. They were then rotoscoped and set against backgrounds that were never motionless. In fact, nothing is ever motionless here, it all vibrates with life. It is stunning to watch.

The one weakness is why I said “probably” up there. I think Coco had the stronger story. The conceit here is of Armand Roulin, who was asked by his father, a postman in Arles, to deliver a letter he had found that Vincent had addressed to his brother, Theo. This was about a year after Vincent’s suicide. He soon finds out that Theo died not long after his brother. Then it becomes something of a mystery story, with Armand beginning to suspect that Vincent might have been murdered in anger by aspiring painter Dr. Paul Gachet (subject of another famous portrait), who was eaten with jealousy because Vincent had talent and he didn’t. I wasn’t really taken with that idea, and was happy that it turned out not to be true. Still, the damage had been done. Minor carp, I guess. Gachet was played by a man I quickly realized was Jerome Flynn, the rogue sidekick to Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones.