When I learnt that Vincent van Gogh had taken his own life by shooting himself in the stomach, I thought it a peculiar and uncertain way of going about it. Why didn’t he make sure of it with a straightforward bullet to the head or heart? It is the question that propels this remarkable animation – although ‘animation’ seems a disrespectful term for what is a series of moving paintings. And they are not just any old paintings, but the great works of van Gogh brought to life. One hundred artists were involved in meticulously recreating the landscapes and portraits executed by him, mostly when he was living in the south of France. Incredibly, he did not pick up a brush until he was twenty-eight, but had completed 800 canvases by the time of his death at thirty-six. The story is set in the year after he died, with B&W flashbacks to when van Gogh (voiced by Robert Gulaczyk) was still alive. Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), son of the postmaster and the subject of one of Vincent’s portraits, sets out to deliver the artist’s last letter to his brother Theo. When hearing that Theo is also dead, Armand becomes more curious about what exactly had happened on the fateful day of Vincent’s suicide. Speaking with those who knew him best, including Doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn), himself a wannabe artist and confidante of van Gogh, and Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), the chatty proprietress of a cafe frequented by Vincent, Armand provokes more questions than he answers. The locals’ testimony, thoroughly researched by directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, combined with Vincent’s own words, paint the picture of a lonely, driven man, gentle but short-fused, erratic but painting to a strict 8–5 timetable, tormented by his sense of failure and dependence on Theo, but inspired by his response to what he saw around him to create works of undying beauty. Surprisingly, the famous sunflowers are only fleetingly noticed, but the concluding rendition of Starry Starry Night is terribly poignant.
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