'Loving Vincent,' hand-painted movie about Van Gogh, is exquisite

Moira Macdonald
The Seattle Times (TNS)
  • Douglas Booth and Eleanor Tomlinson star
  • 3 1/2 stars out of 4

You have, I am certain, never seen anything quite like "Loving Vincent," which is being promoted as the world's first entirely hand-painted movie.

It's an animated film, but that descriptor isn't quite accurate: To tell this story about a mystery surrounding the 1890 death of artist Vincent Van Gogh, filmmakers Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman assembled a cast, found period-appropriate costumes and sets, and shot the film.

Then the real work began: Every frame — more than 65,000 of them — was hand-painted over in oil paint in the style of Van Gogh, by a team of more than 100 artists.

The result is a curious and often exquisite blend of two art forms. With settings and characters inspired by a number of Van Gogh's paintings, the film unfolds as if the viewer fell asleep in a museum and dreamed of art that came alive. Blue clouds swirl over a village; a night sky blinks with lacy stars; a butter-yellow sun sinks over a tangerine-colored field; a dim tavern is lit by gold and green rings of light — all rendered in visibly textured brushstrokes. Rain falls in dashes of straight gray lines; a head of blond hair catches a bit of blue from the sky.

A still from "Loving Vincent." The movie open Oct. 27 at Small Star Art House.

"Loving Vincent" is almost too beautiful for its own good; I found myself, too often, so dazzled by the form that I quite forgot about the content.

If this script had been conventionally filmed and released, I suspect the movie might be quickly forgotten; the story, which moves backward and forward from Van Gogh's life into events after his death, doesn't feel fully developed. But that doesn't really matter; it was a pleasure to become happily lost in this unique film's world of color and line, and to see two filmmakers' mad dream come true.

3.5 out of 4 stars
Cast: Douglas Booth, Eleanor Tomlinson, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Chris O'Dowd, John Sessions, Aidan Turner, Helen McCrory.
Written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman.
94 minutes.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violence, sexual material and smoking.