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story.lead_photo.caption Loving Vincent is a film told entirely in paintings.

Deeply interesting as a visual experience, Loving Vincent is a movie that deserves to be seen.

An odd film that offers little other than its sensational visuals, it's a mediocre detective story/biopic that uses the life and death of the artist as a pretext for a beautiful tour of van Gogh's iconic imagery. Sometimes the impressive effect is mesmerizing (and sometimes it is risible), but the storytelling is at best just passable.

Loving Vincent

88 Cast: (voices of) Douglas Booth, Robert Gulaczyk, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Chris O’Dowd, John Sessions, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aidan Turner

Directors: Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela

Rating: PG-13, for mature thematic elements, some violence, sexual material and smoking

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Loving Vincent will screen at Riverdale 10, 2600 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, at 7 and 9:15 p.m. Tuesday. More information available at riverdale10.com.

And one wonders if we ought to be rewarding the sort of obsessive passion that caused directors Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela to pursue this project for more than seven years. There's something slightly mad about the whole business, a lot of blood, sweat and tears expended for a film that in the end doesn't have that much to say about its subject. But then, it's the journey that matters, right?

Anyway, Welchman and Kobiela, taking their cue from the theory that van Gogh did not commit suicide posited by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White in their 2011 biography of the artist, wrote a script and filmed actors against green screens then employed 125 classically trained oil artists to paint over more than 62,450 frames in van Gogh's iconic gestural style. Instead of painting on cels as do traditional animation artists or in a digital landscape with pixels, they made paintings on canvas, which were then lighted and photographed and stitched together in a process that resembles rotoscoping, the technique that gave Richard Linklater's animated experiments Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006) their eerie dreaminess.

Here the result is like seeing van Gogh's work come to life as postman's son Armand Roulin (voice of British actor Douglas Booth) investigates the final months of the artist's life after he's charged with the impossible task of delivering a letter from van Gogh to his brother Theo -- who died, either of paralytic dementia caused by syphilis or of a broken heart -- a few months after Vincent succumbed.

Armand embarks on a mission to find out more about the strange painter, interviewing people who knew him such as his paint supplier (John Sessions), his doctor (Jerome Flynn), his doctor's daughter (Saoirse Ronan), and a boatman (Aidan Turner) -- all of whom provide conflicting testimony. (And all of whom, like Armand and his father, served as models for van Gogh.) While he eventually arrives at the hypothesis that van Gogh did not commit suicide, but rather was accidentally shot and claimed he had killed himself to protect the boy who shot him, the film is not conclusive. We are left to understand that the best way to know an artist is through his work. Duh.

But the real content of the film is its form, and as pedestrian as its narrative gets, Loving Vincent is a dazzling, throbbing treat for the senses, with van Gogh's universe animated and underscored by Clint Mansell's (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, Moon) well-tempered score. Yellows blaze and deep blacks boom and individual brushstrokes take on a scintillating interior life.

Beauty need make no excuse for being. And Loving Vincent is one of the most beautiful films of this or any other year.

The characters in Loving Vincent inhabit scenes from Vincent van Gogh paintings including Cafe Terrace at Night.

MovieStyle on 12/29/2017

Print Headline: Loving Vincent

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