Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Vincent and Theo

(Netherlands, UK, France, Italy, Germany, 1990)

There is something that really bums me out about this film that has nothing to do with the film itself. It was originally a 200-minute series on the BBC. Then it was edited to a 138-minute version for theatrical release. That’s the one we saw, and we liked it so much that we felt cheated that we couldn’t see the whole thing. It seems it has been released in the UK, in the Region 2 format, but not here. Damn!

What we are missing are the early years of the brothers. We pick up the story somewhere in the middle. Vincent is not really painting yet, but living with a prostitute and doing a lot of drawings. He is temperamental, and his relationship with his more stable brother is tempestuous. But it is clear that they love each other. The script is great, and shows this in many small, intimate scenes. The budget was not large, but it didn’t really need to be. It was filmed in Holland and in France, in the very places where Vincent lived, painted, went insane, cut off part of his ear, and finally killed himself.

The brothers are given equal time, which I thought was great. Vincent’s story has been told many times on film, but Theo, not so much. Tim Roth in the showy role as the tortured Vincent and Paul Rhys as the much more restrained and yet still quite intense Theo are both terrific, as are all the supporting roles of Johanna ter Steege as Theo’s wife Jo, Wladimir Yordanoff as Paul Gauguin, and Jean-Pierre Cassel as Doctor Gachet.

Vincent’s painting of Gachet sold in 1990 for $82.5 million! The film actually begins with the real auction in 1987 of Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers at Christie’s, where it sold for the then-astounding price of $40 million, triple what anyone had ever paid for a painting before. Then we cut to Vincent in his abject poverty, begging Theo for more money, while the sounds of the auction continue in the background. Perfect irony. He never had a sou, never sold a painting, and his works are now worth billions, if you add them all up.

Another hero here, and a man in a profession is frequently overlooked, is Altman’s son Stephen, who did the production design for many of his father’s (who he calls Bob) movies. He has dressed his sets wonderfully, and found locations that really look like paintings. This is one of Altman’s best pictures.