Tuesday 14th November 2017

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Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent is a 2017 biographical animated drama film about the life of painter Vincent van Gogh, and in particular, the circumstances of his death. It is the first fully painted animated feature film. It is written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. The development was funded by the Polish Film Institute, and partially through a Kickstarter campaign. Each of the film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same technique as Van Gogh, created by a team of 115 painters. The film premiered at the 2017 Annecy International Animated Film Festival.

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One year after the death of Vincent van Gogh, Postman Roulin requests that his son Armand personally deliver Van Gogh’s last letter to his brother, Theo, after previous attempts to mail the item failed. Despite not having been fond of Van Gogh and recalling the incident when the deceased mutilated his ear and gifted it to a local prostitute, Armand begrudgingly accepts due to his father’s affection for the painter. Postman Roulin acknowledges Van Gogh’s mental illness and blames the other townspeople for ostracising and driving him out. He also expresses bemusement about the cause of Van Gogh’s death, as he had received a letter from him six weeks prior to the suicide that showed him in a calm and normal mood.

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Armand visits Père Tanguy, who informs him that a depressed Theo, who suffered from syphilis, deteriorated and died shortly after his brother’s death. He recalls his time in Paris with Van Gogh as well as the latter’s strained family life and eventual pursuit of art after several failed career paths. While describing Van Gogh’s funeral, he mentions that Dr Gachet, who housed Van Gogh after his release from an asylum and shared a mutual love of art with him, had treated Van Gogh as family and had been visibly distraught at the funeral; Tanguy recommends that Armand get the forwarding address for Theo’s widow and child from Dr Gachet.

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After travelling to Auvers-sur-Oise, Armand learns that Dr Gachet is out on business from his housekeeper, Louise, who expresses contempt for Van Gogh. While waiting for the doctor’s return, Armand chooses to stay at the same inn that Van Gogh had during his time in the area. There he meets temporary proprietress Adeline Ravoux, who was fond of Van Gogh and was present on the day of his apparent suicide attempt and eventual death. She describes him as a quiet and eccentric man who was fond of his painting and children. Like Armand’s father, she admits to being surprised at his suicide, as he had seemed in good spirits and had ordered more paint to continue his art. Upon her suggestion, Armand visits the local boatman, who informs him that Van Gogh kept close company with Dr Gachet’s sheltered daughter, Marguerite. Armand meets Marguerite, who claims she did not have a close relationship with Van Gogh and rebuffs him after he suggests that Van Gogh’s suicidal mood occurred after her father got into an argument with the painter and forbade Van Gogh from seeing her.

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Armand continues to investigate Van Gogh’s death and questions why he chose to return to the inn after shooting himself in the stomach, rather than shooting himself again in the head. Later, Armand discovers that the shot that mortally wounded Van Gogh happened in a different location than was reported, and that he had been in the company of local boys, one of whom, René Secretan, was in possession of a gun and had often drunkenly waved it around town. Armand visits the boatman again, who informs him that René enjoyed tormenting and humiliating Van Gogh. After a visit to Doctor Mazery, who examined Van Gogh, Armand also learns that the shot that killed the painter came from a distance, and at an angle that made it impossible to rule it a suicide.

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Armand meets Marguerite again, who admits that she was close to Van Gogh, but not romantically, and the argument that happened between him and her father was not about her. Armand theorises to Marguerite that a drunken René accidentally shot Van Gogh, who refused to reveal the truth in order to protect the boy. Marguerite tells him that no matter what happened, Van Gogh was still dead and his life mattered more than the circumstances of his death.

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Dr Gachet finally returns and promises to deliver Armand’s letter to Theo’s widow. The doctor rebuffs Armand’s theory, telling him that depressed patients’ moods can vary wildly and that he could easily have gone from calm to suicidal in six weeks. The guilt-ridden Gachet admits that he was envious of Van Gogh’s talent and commitment to art, and that the argument had occurred after Van Gogh had accused Gachet of being too cowardly to pursue his passion. Gachet, enraged, accused Van Gogh of making Theo’s health worse due to the financial strain caused by having to treat his brother’s mental illness and support his profitless pursuit of art. Gachet posits that the accusation had driven Van Gogh to suicide in order to release Theo from the burden.

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Armand returns home, and Postman Roulin later receives word from Theo’s widow, Johanna, thanking Armand for returning the letter – signed, “Your loving Vincent.” The credits reveal that Armand pursued a lifelong career in the army; Adeline married a local innkeeper; Marguerite remained unmarried in her father’s house and kept Van Gogh’s painting of her for over 40 years; and René Secretan admitted on his deathbed to tormenting Van Gogh, but claimed Van Gogh had stolen his gun to commit suicide. A title card notes that Van Gogh painted over 800 paintings in just 8 years, none of which sold to the public, though he would go on to be named by art historians as the father of modern painting.

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