Van Gogh’s legacy honored in groundbreaking film

Vincent van Gogh’s famous paintings are coming to life this year—quite literally. BreakThru Production and Trademark Films have given viewers a chance to experience the Dutch painter’s works like never before through the world’s first fully hand-painted animated film entitled Loving Vincent. Focusing on “the life and controversial death of Vincent Van Gogh,” the film uses live actors who are then rendered in oil paintings, which are subsequently animated. There are notable actors in the film, including Saoirse Ronan—from the 2016 Academy Award nominated Brooklyn—and Aidan Turner—best known as the dwarf Kili in The Hobbit trilogy. Chris O’Dowd—known for playing Irish cop Nathan Rhodes in Bridesmaids—and Jerome Flynn—known for his role in “Game of Thrones” as Bronn—are featured as well.

The film tells its story by recreating some of Van Gogh’s most well known works such as “Portrait of Dr. Gachet,” “Portrait of Joseph Roulin,” “Portrait of Adeline Ravoux” and “Portrait of Armand Roulin.” Drawn exclusively from 120 of Van Gogh’s paintings and over 800 of his letters to various family and friends, the plot “unfolds through interviews with the characters closest to Vincent and through dramatic reconstructions of the events leading up to his death.”

Essentially, the subjects of his paintings—as well as his family and friends—will be reading Van Gogh’s letters and talking to him, yet Van Gogh himself is unseen throughout; there is no actor portraying him. In order to effectively heighten the sense of mystery that surrounds his death, others speak his quotes. Van Gogh is a man whom many are familiar with, but few truly know.

The film is the brainchild of Polish painter and director Dorota Kobiela and Oscar-winning producer Hugh Welchman. Both wrote and directed the movie, as well as recruited artists and painters who worked with them via their website

Though the film is being released this year, the project began back in 2011. The result of the five years of hard work is an innovative film that truly feels like a moving painting. The painters successfully recreated Van Gogh’s style; immediately recognizable to viewers with all of the bright colors and flowing lines.

Van Gogh’s signature wavy backgrounds that evoke so much movement—the ones seen in “Starry Night”—are actually moving in this film. Viewers also see characters in the moment that they were painted by Van Gogh. Unlike a regular film where the audience is a bystander and observer to the events happening on the screen, this film really achieves what all successful movies strive to do: make the audience feel as though they are experiencing the movie in real life.

This movie is the first of its kind and its artistic focus serves the platform well, but one can only hope that more fully painted animated films are to come. This style of moviemaking not only brings professional artists further into the world of media, but it also enriches its audience’s entertainment. At a time when there are only two basic types of movies—those that use live actors and those that are animated—and at a time when media is the primary form of entertainment, it’s vital that the fine arts world is further integrated into the movie industry.

The film’s title Loving Vincent is Van Gogh’s closing signature on one of his letters. The same letter, in fact, in which he reveals, “Well, the truth is, we cannot speak other than by our paintings.” And this is exactly what the film itself gracefully achieves.