Reviewing “Loving Vincent”

By The Elm - Oct 27,2017@2:55 pm

By Erin Caine
Senior Writer

“Loving Vincent,” a film released in the US on Sept. 22, boasts an original soundtrack just as gorgeously textured as its groundbreaking artwork. Vincent van Gogh’s animated biography, the first feature-length film to be made entirely with paintings, pooled the talent and dedication of 115 painters to create an astounding 65,000 individual frames—each of which is an oil painting on canvas. Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman recruited Grammy-nominated English composer Clint Mansell (who has written music for movies like “Black Swan” and “Requiem for a Dream”) for the soundtrack. Since the late 90s, Mansell has scored at least 50 films and shows, and his “Requiem” score in 2000 garnered him a cult following. The score is instrumental except for its final song, which features British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas as the track’s vocalist.

Each song on the film’s soundtrack cleverly references a van Gogh painting, such as the first track, “The Night Café”—named for van Gogh’s 1888 painting. Though understated and reserved, the song masterfully unifies layers of sound, eventually building into the heavy drone of strings and vocals. The air of mystery about the track resonates with the film’s core question: Who really was Vincent van Gogh? The next song, “The Yellow Horse,” introduces a sense of urgency with its darkly escalating orchestra, as if a character is being pursued. (Most listeners would probably expect, from the title, that the song would be a bit cozier and more relaxed.) “At Eternity’s Gate,” named for van Gogh’s 1890 painting, is doleful and dirge-like, the melody almost desperate-sounding. The heavy tone calls back to the source painting, which is simple yet deeply emotional, featuring an old man in blue sitting by a fire with his face buried in his hands.

“Still Life with Absinthe & a Carafe” injects a lighter tone into the album, a bright and energetic piece that still somehow retains its atmosphere of intrigue. Each track on Mansell’s score involves slowly unfolding tiers of emotion, eerily similar to the visual experience of looking at a van Gogh painting. “The Painter on his Way to Work on the Road to Tarasco” is deceptively simple in the beginning, and yet, right around the three-minute mark, the orchestra swells briefly into a lofty, poignant melody. “Thatched Roofs of Chaponval” is the murkiest track, even somewhat sinister-sounding, with whining strings and muted, thudding drums in the background. Mansell’s score is everything an outstanding film score ought to be: poignant without overwhelming the listener with sentimentality, and also atmospheric while still intermittently surprising us with vivid, memorable moments.

The final track, “Starry Starry Night,” is one that plays during the end credits of the film. Though the song’s tone is light and tranquil, Lianne La Havas’s subtle, satin-smooth vocals impress on the listener the film’s message of humanity within legend, and turmoil beneath genius. La Havas is a London-born musician who debuted in 2012 and currently has two studio albums under her belt, and the latter—her 2015 “Blood”—was even up for a Grammy last year. The song was originally written by Don McLean, and La Havas’s version is a worthy rerecording, adding new breadths of meaning and resonance. It is a profound, soulful conclusion to a profoundly moving score. The song, itself, is nearly as timeless as van Gogh’s paintings.

The Elm

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