Loving Vincent puts van Gogh in the frame

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      Starring Douglas Booth. Rated PG

      Lovingly is for sure the way Loving Vincent was created. It took seven years to complete this look at Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh’s final days, and their aftermath, in a rural Paris suburb. Making their feature-directing debut together, Poland’s Dorota Kobiela and the U.K.’s Hugh Welchman started by filming live actors against green screens, and then had hundreds of animators and technicians in several countries add layers of oil-paint colour and texture to the footage, creating the impression of the artist’s famously thick brush strokes.

      They use many of his best-known paintings as starting points, and as backgrounds or transitions, for their own story, which is much less inspiring than the art. For some reason, they focus on the mildly nebulous circumstances of van Gogh’s suicide at age 37, in 1890. Douglas Booth (currently seen in The Limehouse Golem) plays Armand Roulin, a hard-drinking dandy in a yellow jacket who is tasked with delivering a posthumous letter by his dad, the muttonchop-whiskered postmaster (Chris O’Dowd) of Arles, in southern France, where the painter found his swirly, postimpressionist style.

      Van Gogh painted father and son, who probably didn’t have accents quite as divergent as Booth’s Cockney twang and O’Dowd’s Irish brogue. Among latter-day friends and antagonists of the red-bearded artist, there’s no effort to coordinate the speaking or acting styles of, say, Brooklyn’s Saoirse Ronan and The Hobbit’s Aidan Turner—both from Ireland—and those of Brits Helen McCrory (Penny Dreadful) and Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones). Flynn plays Dr. Gachet, a father figure with an ambiguous role in the manic ups and downs of the painter and his sickly younger brother, Theo.

      Both van Goghs are seen, played by Polish actors, in black-and-white flashbacks that are more realistically treated than the colourful “present”. The mystery Armand pursues never fully engages, and the clunky script sometimes takes you out of the period. But a visual approach that sounds, on paper, like a thin gimmick is consis­tently compelling on-screen—sometimes breathtakingly so. Be sure to stay for the credits, to catch photos and sketches of the real-life characters, and to hear Lianne La Havas’s take on “Starry, Starry Night”. Like the movie, it’s less smarmy than you might expect.

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