Van Gogh To See Loving Vincent, An Entirely Hand-Painted Film

You better paintbrush up on your knowledge of Van Gogh

by Annie Muscat

Staff Art Ho

Ever referred to something as a “work of art”? You may want to rethink a new phrase because Loving Vincent, a Vincent Van Gogh biopic made up entirely of oil paintings, has taken “work of art” to a whole new level. Say what? Oil paintings? That’s right. 62,450 of them to be exact.

Polish filmmaker Hugh Walkman admired fellow director Dorota Kobiela’s ambition to create a short inspired by Van Gogh’s letters and encouraged her to extend the project into a full-length feature film. This ambitious and seemingly impossible task was made into a reality following nearly seven years of creative development when Loving Vincent was finally released in the U.S. on September 22nd.


As Kobiela had originally intended to create the paintings for the small-scale short herself, she had worked for roughly three years to embody Van Gogh’s technique in her own painting. However, once the immensity of composing a full-length film made up of oil paintings was realized, the director knew it would be essential to seek widespread help.

With the trailer launch in February 2016, thousands of art portfolios from across the world flooded in. Ultimately, over 120 artists’ work was solicited, after undergoing extensive training to emulate Van Gogh’s distinctive thick brushwork. Each second of the 87-minute film consists of 12 hand-painted frames which can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple days to complete. For all you non-math majors out there, that means it took a single painter almost a month to produce one second of content.

In an interview with Douglas Booth, who starred as Armand Roulin, the actor said that they “shot like a normal film…on green screen and with very basic sets…and the artist painted over in the style of Van Gogh and interpreted every scene of every single frame”. All of this time-consuming and expensive work (art materials ain’t cheap!!) was executed under the film’s modest $5.5 million budget. For a sense of comparison, Bee Movie (2007) worked with a production budget of $150 million.

According to the film’s website, Loving Vincent was not made in order to be groundbreaking, but rather to tell Van Gogh’s narrative by means of his paintings. Multiple reproductions of Van Gogh’s most recognizable paintings make an appearance including his Night Cafe, Starry Night, and Wheatfield with Crows.

While many books and movies, such as Irving Stone’s Lust for Life and its 1956 film adaptation of the same title, have already sought to relay the passionate life of the world’s favorite “tortured artist”, Loving Vincent recounts a slightly different story. The film takes place a year after Vincent’s death and follows Armand Roulin, a yellow jacket-clad young man prone to curiosity and alcohol, as he travels across France to deliver the last letter written by Vincent to his brother Theo. After learning that Theo had recently died, Roulin, still intent on getting the letter into the proper hands, seeks out acquaintances of the late Vincent. The movie shifts course as it becomes a murder mystery. The audience, along with Roulin, becomes enveloped in a conspiracy regarding Vincent’s death. Was it a suicide as history claims? Or was the artist actually murdered?

Through intricate flashbacks resembling black-and-white photographs, Vincent’s frantic search for meaning unfolds as characters offer snapshots of insight.

The aesthetics alone are captivating. The undulating nature of the painted frames create a constant feeling of movement. Fine arts and technology, namely computer-generated animation, converge in a breathtaking array of color, motion, and composition.

Composer Clint Mansell, the same genius behind the soundtrack for Requiem for a Dream (2000), is responsible for the score, characterized by melancholic piano and string instruments, which greatly contributes to the overall beauty.

I sat alone in the Lincoln Plaza Cinema theater, fighting back tears as I watched the works of an artist I greatly admire come alive. I was the only person under the age of 65, which may have something to do with the fact that it was 2 pm on a Wednesday and the theater has generous senior specials. Side note: movie tickets have become so ridiculously pricey; I may invest in a fake senior citizen ID to finesse the system.

At times during the film, I had to remind myself that I was watching thousands of paintings presented one after another for milliseconds at a time. My eyes never once left the screen out of fear I would miss a single frame. Would Loving Vincent be as astounding of a film if it was not completely composed of hand-painted oil paintings? Probably not. The plot proves slow at some points and is carried by the unique style.

Loving Vincent is awe-inspiring to say the least. So embrace your inner art ho. Van GOGH and treat yo’self to a genuine work of art. Ha!


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