There's a glorious tension in Vincent Van Gogh's paintings, the thick paint holding each of the artist's gestures like an insect in amber, and the long-hardened material still appearing to shiver and pulse. Animators Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman free that contained movement to make Van Gogh's brushstrokes breathe in Loving Vincent, an engrossing exploration of the artist's final days rendered in his signature painting style.
Like the work of Van Gogh, whose audacious imagery has been reproduced into ubiquity, their first feature is at once audacious and safe. After a live-action shoot with actors cloaked in the garb of Van Gogh's subjects, Kobiela and Welchman led an animation team in hand-painting the images, so Postman Roulin looks like his 19th century French counterpart, but is also recognizably Chris O'Dowd.
It's Roulin's son Armand (Douglas Booth) who undertakes a Citizen Kane quest, interviewing those touched by Van Gogh to create his own portrait of the troubled outsider. Kobiela, Welchman and Jacek Dehnel have written a thorny narrative, with two observant daughters, the gregarious Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson) and aloof Marguerite Gachet (Saoirse Ronan), enriching this compelling vision of the dogged man who engendered derision as much as adoration.
These reminiscences are depicted in flashbacks that employ the gelid black and white of film noir instead of Van Gogh's blazing, assaultive colors. It's the most daring decision in Loving Vincent, a visual reminder that the artist beloved into cliche could feel an encroaching darkness that his voluminous letter writing and extensive artistic output could barely keep at bay.