Every now and then, films end up etching themselves into history. The Jazz Singer strode boldly onto the world stage as the first "talkie" film. The Blair Witch Project catapulted the found footage genre into the spotlight off the back of a novel advertising campaign. Loving Vincent carves its own niche in the realm of film in fantastically eye-catching fashion, the end result of an undeniably unique vision.
To wit, from the first, it positively oozes style – the product of six years of assiduous work, almost every single one of the 65,000 odd frames that comprise this film are oil-painted by hand. It captures the essence of van Gogh and his work perfectly in regards to the field of visuals, and it bestows an almost surreal and otherworldly quality upon the film as a whole, to see something so indelibly unique be brought to life off the back of unfettered ambition and dedicated support as the culmination of a Kickstarter project. The number of films funded through Kickstarter campaigns and reaching the silver screen is growing, and Loving Vincent certainly bodes well for the future of such films as far as imagination is concerned.
One of the unquestionable bonuses that a crowd-funded film offers is that it allows for distinctly unconventional ideas to be explored and for paths to be taken which the mainstream film industry may find too costly or time-consuming. Fittingly, then, the biography strives as best as it can to be a filmic ode to one of history's most preeminent artists, rendering his storied life and his attempted suicide and resulting death in spellbinding clarity. It is indubitably a feast for the eyes, a succulent visual morsel within the genre – but its lavish appearance comes at a cost that harms it.
There are performances amid the torrent of colours and painstakingly-crafted hand-painted frames, voices from noteworthy names no less, all cast as van Gogh and important individuals within his life – but while the voice work given by the main cast is certainly passable, the performances of the individual actors themselves end up being rather lost in the display. By all appearances the film's chief concern is looking as spellbinding as possible in paying homage to one of the late great artists of our time, and the visual representation of certain aspects of his life ends up overshadowing the vocal talents of people like Saorise Ronan, Douglas Booth and Jerome Flynn. Robert Gulaczyk makes for an intriguing new choice for the eccentric painter, but the cast is placed at a distant second compared to the dream-like presentation of the film itself. It may suit van Gogh's style, but it also comes across as the film becoming a bit too narrow-minded with regards to its priorities.
For its undeniable visual splendor, at times the endeavor comes across as a little self-absorbed – and, here and there, more than a touch aimless. For those with a keen interest in the artist the film professes to focus on, they cover his history in general terms but never choose to focus intensely on any single particular period in his topsy-turvy existence, and those drawn to Loving Vincent by having an avid fondness for van Gogh and his works, or even for the Renaissance period, may be discouraged because of it. It comes across as being too self-indulgent across its relatively scant 94 minutes of running time, and as much as this product is absolutely a labour of love, it regrettably allows itself to go astray and lose focus which, if kept, could have elevated this feature to something truly worthwhile.
The end result is something that is undeniably sumptuous on a visual level, and singularly unique in its presentation, and a production that is good in being generally informative with regards to van Gogh, but ultimately feels as though it's rather "there", getting a little too caught up in its frippery to deliver a truly solid biographical examination of the man. If you want something new, it's certainly a treat in that respect. If you're looking for something that more rigorously explores history, however, it is best to try looking elsewhere.