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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
“Loving Vincent” is, indisputably, a technical achievement. Each one of the ambitious animated film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting, created by a classically trained artist in the style — or, rather, in the various styles — of painter Vincent Van Gogh. More than 100 painters worked together to create the film, which follows an acquaintance of the artist who is trying to uncover how and why Van Gogh died in 1890, at 37.
The tale begins one year after Van Gogh has died, purportedly from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Joseph Roulin (voice of Chris O’Dowd), a postman and friend of the artist whom Van Gogh immortalized in portraiture, tasks his son Armand (Douglas Booth) with delivering the last letter that Van Gogh wrote before dying — one addressed to the artist’s brother Theo. Armand’s journey takes the first of several detours once he realizes that Theo, too, is dead. So Armand travels to Auvers-sur-Oise, the town where Van Gogh died, to meet with the people who knew the painter in an effort to understand what exactly happened. What starts out as an investigation into the suicide of a man — whose depression and anxiety seemed to be lifting just before his death — turns into a whodunit.
In reality, much of the potential murder mystery feels like an excuse to merely revisit characters and scenes from Van Gogh’s art. There are portraits of Van Gogh’s doctor, Paul Gachet (Jerome Flynn), and his daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan), along with a glimpse of “The Starry Night” and of boats on the Oise River bank.
“Loving Vincent” is itself an imaginative work of art. And what better way than that to honour its subject?