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Dazzling hand-painted film ‘Loving Vincent’ a unique gem

You have, I am certain, never seen anything quite like “Loving Vincent,” which is being promoted as the world’s first entirely hand-painted movie. It’s an animated film, but that descriptor isn’t quite accurate: To tell this story about a mystery surrounding the 1890 death of artist Vincent Van Gogh, filmmakers Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman assembled a cast, found period-appropriate costumes and sets, and shot the film. Then the real work began: Every frame – more than 65,000 of them – was hand-painted over in oil paint in the style of Van Gogh, by a team of more than 100 artists.

Marguerite Gachet, played by Saoirse Ronan, in a scene from “Loving Vincent.”

The result is a curious and often exquisite blend of two art forms. With settings and characters inspired by a number of Van Gogh’s paintings, the film unfolds as if the viewer fell asleep in a museum and dreamed of art that came alive. Blue clouds swirl over a village; a night sky blinks with lacy stars; a butter-yellow sun sinks over a tangerine-colored field; a dim tavern is lit by gold and green rings of light – all rendered in visibly textured brush strokes. Rain falls in dashes of straight gray lines; a head of blond hair catches a bit of blue from the sky.

“Loving Vincent” is almost too beautiful for its own good; I found myself, too often, so dazzled by the form that I quite forgot about the content. If this script had been conventionally filmed and released, I suspect the movie might be quickly forgotten; the story, which moves backward and forward from Van Gogh’s life into events after his death, doesn’t feel fully developed. But that doesn’t really matter; it was a pleasure to become happily lost in this unique film’s world of color and line, and to see two filmmakers’ mad dream come true.

3 1/2 stars