A film to make Vincent turn in his grave

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VAN Gogh’s portrait of Pere Tanguy (played by John Sessions) corrupted into life. Photograph courtesy maturetimes.co.uk

VINCENT VAN GOGH spent 37 tortured years on this planet. He was easily one of the most prolific artists the modern world has seen, but he’s also a key figure in visual culture because he has become emblematic of the popular cliché which reflects on a poor man with oodles of talent holed up in a freezing garret with just his absinthe and his unsellable paintings to keep him company. The story follows the chap to his early sad grave, and then sees his work exploding in value on the commercial sphere. It’s an old story, but it’s also van Gogh’s.

And in being so, has become grist for the commercial mill, which has ground out yet another cliché-ridden, disrespectful extrapolation on van Gogh’s life in the form of Loving Vincent. It clearly did have good intentions, which feel from the outset like a vanity project: but what you see on the big screen is precious and cute; it’s hard on the eye and overall wooden in its narrative.

The story focuses on the possible causes of Van Gogh’s suicide in 1890 and, armed with letter written to his brother Theo, the piece casts a faux historical narrative around a quest for the truth. On a level, it’s like a thriller. Or at least, on paper, it might have read as such. But for a full length movie to feature jagged stop-frame-animation, is a hell of a thing. It’s a migraine-inducing thing which causes you to have to rest your eyes much of the time.

And it’s a total mystery why the makers of Loving Vincent didn’t knock on the door of more seasoned animators. Animation isn’t, after all, a new medium in this world. So what you get is a bumpy, self-consciously artsy ride which makes the actors’ voices feel like voice-overs and which separates character from performance, from spoken words in a way which blatantly bruises the fluidity of the story.

But there’s more. The act of taking a painting and reducing it to a milli-second of filmed time in the name of the telling of an animated story is outrageously disrespectful. For several tiny seconds in this much-too-long film, you get a glimpse of images of the paintings themselves before they were corrupted by this animation project. And the biggest casualty in this is that the work is not about the art. It’s about hypotheses as to why one disturbed man kills himself. The art just becomes an incidental novelty. A crass little cherry on top of a big budget project.

And while we’re talking crass, let’s not forget that the title of the thing is a derivation from how Vincent signed his letters to his brother Theo: Your loving Vincent. The makers of this film could not even respect the intimacy of this complex brotherly love and felt the need to interject their commercial presence in even this.

Vincent van Gogh was the father of a certain type of visual expression. He was not an Englishman. None of the people with whom he fraternised or fought, were English. His is not an English story. And yes, perhaps this film is made for an English speaking audience, but seriously? The range of distinct English accents in this film further blurs over historical veracity or any pretense of it. Had this been in Dutch with English sub-titles, it might have held a modicum of value. Had it even been in English with Dutch and French accents, similarly so. But here, you get nothing.

And as you sit there, feeling irritated by the cloying van Gogh clichés which wash over you with a slick and supercilious resonance, you quietly think, at least they’re not touting that 1971 Don McLean song, Starry Starry Night. But stop right there: it’s there, too, in all its syrupy sentimentality, interpreted by Lianne La Havas in this iteration.

This morass of sickly and superficial Van Gogh adulation does little for an understanding of the artist, his work and his desperate illness which led to his death. And above all, it’s a chore to watch – with an entertainment factor standing way under par.

  • Loving Vincent is directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman and features a cast headed by Bozena Berlinska-Bryzek, Douglas Booth, Josh Burdett, Borys Dominiuk, Kamila Dyoubari, Holly Earl, Jerome Flynn, Przemyslaw Furdak, James Greene, Robert Gulaczyk, Keith Heppenstall, Martin Herdman, Robin Hodges, Cezary Lukaszewicz, Helen McCrory, Chris O’Dowd, Adam Pabudzinski, Piotr Pamula, Graham Pavey, Saoirse Ronan, John Sessions, Anastazja Seweryn, Marcin Sosinski, Bertlomiej Sroka, Joe Stuckey, Nina Supranionek, Bill Thomas, Eleanor Tomlinson and Aidan Turner. It is written by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Jacek Dehnel. Produced by Ivan Mactaggart, it features creative input by Clint Mansell (music), Tristan Oliver and Lukasz Zal (cinematography), Dorota Kobiela and Justyna Wierszynska (editing), Jennifer Duffy (casting) and Dorota Roqueplo (costumes). Release date: February 23 2018.

 

Molly’s story: not just any card game

MOLLY'S GAME

TAKING the world on with integrity: Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) and Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), her lawyer. Photograph courtesy www.theverge.com

THE CHALLENGE OF telling a complicated story in bold brush strokes in such a way that detail and nuance are not part of the casualties is a stiff one. The creative team behind Molly’s Game has achieved almost the impossible with this finely honed piece of filmography that is at once beautiful and sexy, intelligent and thought-provoking. It is informative and has a moral core; it’s magnificent to look at and will keep your conversations for weeks after you’ve seen it, peppered with suppositions and reminiscences.

On one level, it’s a poker movie. But if you’re not a poker buff, it doesn’t matter. The game and its morality, the energy behind its allure, are portrayed with a slick suaveness that never becomes self-indulgent. Indeed, there are explanatory overlays that speak of the potency of different hands, and it’s a directorial feat achieved with balance.

Similarly, the story is told on an almost documentary level. There’s a narrator to the work which fills in the narrative interstices and lends the story historical flow without dumbing down the performances or making them illustrative.

And then, there is Jessica Chastain in the leading role. She’s beautiful in the sense that LA-film critic Mick La Salle describes French actresses: there’s a realness, an almost harshness, to her which lifts her stature beyond that of bimbo and into the messy realm of high-end gambling behind closed doors. She really looks at the characters she interfaces with, and she embodies her character with a wrenching earnestness that never feels forced.

As the trailer will show you, there’s lots of high velocity gambling, with the lights, the bling, the revealing dresses and the dodgy rich men. But what the trailer doesn’t show you is the deeply intellectual soul of the story.

It’s the true tale of Olympic skier Molly Bloom, who is shaped by the urge to conquer the most difficult challenges, an urge which takes her in a completely different direction to what any of her fans or enemies might have imagined. It’s a tale with heart and soul, blending and twisting James Joyce’s Ulysses and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible deliciously into its narrative and its screenplay.

With honed and strong performances by Idris Elba and Kevin Costner, it’s a work that foregrounds a young woman’s relationship to men in power, and there are psychological themes and intellectual choruses in the work which are allowed to develop in strata.

In short, this yarn, which touches all mythologist Joseph Campbell’s values about the way in which a hero’s life story is constructed, is tight and intelligently made. There are simply no flaws in it. And you will not be satisfied with a single watching of it. This is one of those films that slides into classic status automatically.

  • Molly’s Game is directed by Aaron Sorkin and features a cast headed by Gurdeep Ahluwalla, Mary Ashton, Nicholas Banks, Jon Bass, Tom Black, Jacob Blair, Chris Boyle, Steve Brandes, Gary Brennan, Joey Brooks, Catherine Burdon, Bill Camp, Jessica Chastain, Michael Cera, Laura Cilevitz, Ari Cohen, Michael Cohen, Kevin Costner, Brian d’Arcy James, Karl Danhoffer, Todd Thomas Dark, Lizzy DeClement, Linette Doherty, Dennis Drummond, Dan Duran, Idris Elba, Frank Falcone, David Gingrich, Jake Goldsbie, Zachary Goodbaum, Angela Gots, Graham Greene, Shane Harbinson, Thomas Hauff, Daoud Heidami, Stephanie Herfield, Kjartan Hewitt, Chris Hoffman, Piper Howell, James Hurlburg, Samantha Isler, Morgan David Jones, Tommy Julien, Jeff Kassel, Joe Keery, Robert B Kennedy, Justine Kirk, Khalid Klein, Michael Kostroff, Natalie Krill, John Krpan, David Lafontaine, Maria Lerinman, Dan Lett, Ken Linton, Alanna Macaulay, JC MacKenzie, Bo Martyn, Matthew D Matteo, Madison McKinley, Elisa Moolecherry, Timothy Mooney, Duane Murray, John Nelles, Randy Noojin, Chris O’Dowd, Chris Owens, Vasilios Pappas, Jeffrey Parazzo, Whitney Peak, AC Peterson, Jason Pithawalla, Phil Primmer, Jonathan Purdon, Claire Rankin, Robin Read, David Reale, Amy Rutherford, Victor Serfaty, Chris Siddiqi, Rachel Skartsten, Tony Stellisano, Amy Stewart, Rae Anne Stroeder, Jeremy Strong, George Tchortov, Dov Tiefenbach, Vladimir Tsyglian, Rico Tudico, Alyssa Veniece, Bruno Verdoni, Leo Vernik, Jason Weinberg and Moti Yona. It is written by Aaron Sorkin, based on Molly Bloom’s autobiography. Produced by Mark Gordon, Matt Jackson and Amy Pascal, it features creative input by Daniel Pemberton (music), Charlotte Bruus Christensen (cinematography), Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham and Josh Schaeffer (editing), Francine Maisler (casting), David Wasco (production design) and Susan Lyall (costume design). Release date: January 12 2018.