Loving Vincent

This was the first movie I went to see with my newly minted (and now defunct) MoviePass, intrigued by the gimmick and positive reviews. The gimmick is that this story, the last few days of Vincent van Gogh’s life, is animated by painting. I don’t really know what the technique was, but the visual effect is that of each frame switching and twisting as the brushstrokes for each are, naturally, different. It’s a bold idea.

This did not work for me. Motion attracts attention and everything on screen is in motion. If you’re familiar with stop-motion animation using clay figures, one of the things that happens is that the animators’ fingerprints are visible on the characters and they change and shift with each shot. But in stop-motion, the effect is, if not subtle, not exactly in-your-face either. The fingerprints come from moving the figures, so there’s a large motion associated with the smaller motions. You may not even notice the fingerprints. Everything not moved is static, as well.

In this approach, everything moved every frame. The background, the sky, whatever. Actually, maybe not everything—give me a break, here, it’s been over a year and I mostly forgot this right away. I seem to recall that some frames seemed to be a bit “cheat”-y, where a background was re-used, and this “cheat” gave you a respite. The thing about a painting is that it’s meant to be looked at, and you want to appreciate the details, even though they’re blurring by at fractions of seconds. The moments of relative static-ness were welcome.

But they were brief. And it was hard to concentrate on the story. It almost felt wrong to do so at times.

The narrative itself is not great. It’s a poignant story, which must be largely fictitious, concerns a boy tasked with delivering van Gogh’s final letter and his discovery of those final days. It sounds good. If I hadn’t already seen it, I’d want to see it. I sort of want to see it again. But my impression of it was that it was kind of cold, which I might attribute to the painting gimmick, except The Boy (who doesn’t usually notice such things) also didn’t think it was very interesting.

OTOH, the theater was packed, the film was nominated for an Oscar—it lost to Coco, of course, because the Academy isn’t going to be handing out that Oscar to weird foreign or arty films—the RTs both audience and critic agree (mid-80%) and it even has a 7.8 IMDB rating. So what do we know?

For me, anyway.

Any given frame is interesting. Animated it’s almost unwatchable.

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