New Van Gogh Film Employs a Painterly Approach

"Loving Vincent," a new film from the UK about Van Gogh, is a technical marvel. Billed as the first cinematic feature in which every frame is derived from an individual painting, the film's production was a seven year labor of love by Polish animator and director Dorota Kobiela. Over 65,000 individual paintings were produced by a team of 120 painters to complete the film's visuals. On average, each 10 second shot of the film required 20 weeks of work by a painter. Although critics have been somewhat divided on the film's overall success as a dramatic feature (it currently holds a 77% score on Rotten Tomatoes), the sheer visual complexity of the work is stunning.

The plot for the film is structured around a posthumous effort to deliver the artist's final letter to his brother Theo. Live footage with an ensemble of actors was shot in London over 14 days, which served as a framework for the film's team of painters. The technique was similar to that used by American filmmaker Richard Linklater in his movies "Waking Life" and "Through a Scanner Darkly." A range of characters whom we know from Van Gogh's painting and letters are incorporated into the plot -- each visually-introduced from the same perspective as depicted by Van Gogh.

The film's narrative is ultimately too conventional for both its subject and its own visual approach, hewing dangerously close to a conventional "Whodunit?" storyline and indulging too many of the mawkish, melodramatic conceptions about the artist and his work. Yet, it still manages to provide an impressive degree of sheer cinematic pleasure for the viewer.


BBC segment detailing the production process for "Loving Vincent," the feature-length film about Vincent Van Gogh created from 65,000 individual oil on canvas works.