There's two immediate challenges I see when thinking about a film like this, and it has to mentioned, this is the first film of it kind. The first handed animated picture that actually captures the actors performances and not just their voice talents. Firstly is how on Earth do you make a film that's not only painted, but is done entirely in the style of their chosen artist which leads me to their second challenge; how does one (or two) tell a story about Vincent Van Gogh?
I was fortunate enough to catch a Q&A screening for it's UK/ROI premiere which was hosted by London's own National Gallery; and I am so glad I did with answers being provided by Hugh Welchman, one half of the husband and wife team who directed the picture, one of the producers, Ivan Mactaggart, actors, Douglas Booth and Helen McCory; and one of the many artists that worked on the film, Sarah Wimperis. All of which gave a deeper understanding and a growing appreciation of this astounding film.
What do we know about Van Gogh? Or what do we think we know about the troubled artist? He's considered the father of modern and western art, he cut his own ear off after what some suspect to be during a binge on absinthe. We all know many of his famous paintings of landscapes, portraits and self portraits, whether we recognise them to by him or not.
So how do they successful tell an interesting story of the artist that would appeal to the masses without becoming a documentary? Well, there's a brilliant narrative choosing to tell part of his story from after his supposed suicide turning this into an intriguing murder mystery that isn't a far-fetched story. It's been in constant debate among biographers, art historians and even the Van Gogh Museum regarding his supposed suicide, which leads this story down an open mystery.
Much of the story is based on an immense amount of research as see through the story of Armand Roulin, one of Van Gogh subjects who reluctantly goes to Paris to deliver a letter to Van Gogh's brother, Theo; but he inadvertently unearths suspicion when he hears opposing stories from the people who knew Van Gogh. These parts being taken directly from the conflicting statements written after his death.
Douglas Booth leads an incredible cast, playing Armand Roulin, who is amazing and is fast becoming one of my favourite actors, having seen him in The Limehouse Golem earlier this summer. I don't know what it is about him, but I honestly believe he would make an incredible Freddie Mercury. There's a strong supporting cast, all of whom had to model their respective character's pose from their portraits, and all give great performances that really adds another dimension to the animation.
The animation itself is a totally separate feat all together, never having seen anything like it. Some might suspect the technique of rotoscoping being used but the film is entirely hand painted and uses stop-motion animation. This was achieved with the incredible collaboration of some 120 different artists and painters who worked endlessly for over 2 years. Now these artists are not animators, so not only did they have to learn to understand animation they had to unlearn their own style and adopt Van Gogh's in so to bring his paintings to life.
So many of his works are used with his landscape pieces setting the scenes such as his 'Yellow House', 'The Night Café' and 'The Church at Auvers' whereas his portraits are used to introduce each character of the story, each being real life people he had met and painted. Sarah Wimperis, one the artists who worked on the film spent 5 months painting the wheat fields, around 300 frames worth that equated to about 30 seconds of screen time. The total project resulting in some 65,000 paintings ending up with around 900 canvases which some had been sold to help finance the film, some gifted to cast and crew and the rest currently being auctioned off.
It's spectacularly unique and stunningly vivid using Van Gogh colour palette throughout apart from the gorgeous black and white sequences which depicted times before his death with the vibrant colourful scenes representing the present narrative. The film's ratio is also respectful of Van Gogh, using the academy ratio which is the closest format to the canvases he would have painted on.
All of this accompanied by an impressive and alluring score from Clint Mansell, a composer the makers originally wanted and who at first refused. The studio had used a playlist of Mansell's previous pieces to help inspire the film creation. Glady Mansell changed his mind last minute and agreed to work on the project composing thrilling and enchanting tracks that are titled and inspired by Van Gogh famous pieces. Lianne La Havas does an amazing rendition of Don McLean's 'Vincent' to boot.
Overall, this is the most ambitious film I have seen this year, and one of the ambitious films of all time that has created a masterpiece, a perfect amalgamation of stunning artistry and enthralling storytelling that's both educational and inspirational. I would be very excited to see other artists life's work portrayed in such a creative and visually brilliant way. Did I hear right that Gogos would be an idea?
Running Time: 9
The Cast: 8
Job Description: 10
The Extra Bonus Point: 10 for being an unique, visual masterpiece that melds incredible artistry with great storytelling about one of history's most famous artists.