Vincent: The Life And Death Of Vincent Van Gogh

A 1987 feature from Paul Cox (Lonely Hearts, Man of Flowers), a Dutch filmmaker based in Australia, combining John Hurt’s offscreen readings of Vincent van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo from 1872 until his suicide in 1890 with shots of his works and the places he lived in and painted, as well as occasional period re-creations of his milieu, using actors but no dialogue. (Most of the visuals are depicted from the artist’s viewpoint, and van Gogh himself is seen only through his self-portraits.) This is certainly more than an illustrated slide lecture, but often comes across as something less than a fully articulated filmalthough Cox’s reticence about certain matters (such as van Gogh’s celebrated severing of his ear) is arguably defensible. The film doesn’t ignore van Gogh’s bouts with madness, but its overall emphasis is on his sensibility as a conscious artist. It is to the film’s credit that a wide range of his work is shown, including many pieces that are not readily available, and that some of the letters are newly translated by Cox. On the other hand, the perennial problem of how to show paintings in a film is not wholly solved here: Cox’s conventional use of details and a panning camera has a somewhat touristic effect, and we’re seldom allowed to linger on any single work. 105 min. (JR)

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