I’m a sucker for a good gimmick. And what better gimmick for a film about Vincent van Gogh than to hand paint every damn frame in the style (and medium!) of the artist? That’s the hook of Loving Vincent, from directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman …along with over 100 painters.
In practice, the gimmick is as fascinating as it is disappointing. Given that these artists have painted over live-action, green-screen footage, the net effect is akin to modern rotoscoping (think A Scanner Darkly) with a van Gogh flavour. Great paintings are bursting with information and emotion from every frame; this is more utilitarian, using static (often quite flat) backgrounds and shallow mimicry of the famous painter’s style.
Visually, Loving Vincent’s not as ambitious as I’d hoped for. Hamstrung by a narrative that largely tedious, single shots of characters talking to one another (in a whodunnit story about Vincent’s death that never becomes at all compelling), the art lacks the spark of its subject’s works. But then again – expecting a single frame of a feature film to live up to one of the world’s greatest artists is folly in of itself. Loving Vincent is a compelling curio, but little more.