In this film, a family friend of the Van Goghs is sent to the last hometown of Vincent Van Gogh in the months following his suicide and becomes obsessed with discovering everything he can about Van Gogh’s death. It’s a serviceable premise, but the hook is the presentation. Loving Vincent claims to be the first fully hand-painted feature film; it’s an animated film painted to deliberately mimic the style of Van Gogh. More on that later. Before you even get to that, the film falls apart on the basics of its story. It initially ends up floating a couple of weird conspiracy theories regarding Van Gogh’s death possibly being a murder. Now, look, I have no idea if that’s actually part of any kind of current scholarship or what, but it’s really stupid and seems like the writers desperately trying to figure out a way to pad their screenplay. The movie then seems to kind of get comfortable with the idea that Van Gogh did in fact commit suicide, but then it becomes even more disturbing to me because it starts pushing this idea that the main character is going to discover the “reason” Van Gogh committed suicide. This myth that there’s usually one big reason a person commits suicide is quite pernicious and it never seems to go away; there is, get this straight, one reason a person kills themselves. No one can enter the life of a person who committed suicide and unlock the life in order to reveal the “one reason.” There isn’t one, much to this movie’s chagrin. I’m hardly a Van Gogh scholar, though I did once read a three volume set of his complete letters, so I do actually feel like I know more than the average movie-goer probably does about his life and his death. These people seem to know Van Gogh’s art; many images in the film deliberately echo or reproduce Van Gogh’s paintings, but in terms of the psychology of suicide they’re basically idiots. As to the visuals, well, it does provide some beautiful images, but the credits reveal the actors for the various parts in costume, leading me to finally understand that this movie was in fact filmed with actors and then painted over in a kind of high art rotoscoping. This isn’t, as it really couldn’t be, what it presents itself as: a film composed of hundreds of painters sitting down and free handing images in Van Gogh’s style. But what this does reduce the film to is hackwork, quite literally. No one working on the visuals of this movie had an artistic vision, just what amounted to a paint-by-numbers pattern, and the difference is pretty clear as you’re watching the film and wondering why there simply isn’t any spark here. Well, that would do it. This movie ends up getting at one of the fundamental questions of art: what is the difference between art created by a true artist and art more or less copied from that art by lesser artists? Is there a difference between a Van Gogh painting and a Van Gogh painting carefully copied or a Van Gogh painting lovingly imitated? Is there a difference between this film, which painstakingly apes the style of Van Gogh, and the paintings Van Gogh himself created? I hate to speak in such broad terms, but I think these filmmakers have accidentally answered this massive philosophical question. In fact, the “yes” they’ve answered with is so resounding and painfully obvious that it makes you wonder why you ever needed to ask. 1 star.
tl;dr – hackwork provides a few pretty images, but it’s dull & lifeless with a dreadful, uninteresting, silly plot; painstaking imitation can’t measure up to true inspiration. 1star.