Covering much the same biographical ground as Robert Altman's acclaimed VINCENT & THEO, French director Maurice Pialat tackles the last two months of the artist's life in a mood of bemused contemplation. The film begins with the arrival of Vincent (Jacques Dutronc) in Auvers, France, to be cared for by Dr. Gachet (Gerard Sety) for supposed epileptic fits...read more
Covering much the same biographical ground as Robert Altman's acclaimed VINCENT & THEO, French director Maurice Pialat tackles the last two months of the artist's life in a mood of bemused contemplation.
The film begins with the arrival of Vincent (Jacques Dutronc) in Auvers, France, to be cared for by Dr. Gachet (Gerard Sety) for supposed epileptic fits and headaches. Gachet finds nothing physically wrong with him, but Vincent stays on in the town anyway to do some painting, first at the local hotel then, after his money runs out, moving in with Gachet and his precocious teenage daughter Marguerite (Alexandra London). Each morning Vincent rises with the farm workers and goes out to paint, returning at dusk. To help pay for his stay at the Gachet's, he paints both Marguerite and her father. Marguerite develops a crush on Vincent that quickens when she spies him cavorting with a prostitute who comes to visit him from Paris.
When Vincent's brother, Theo (Bernard LeCoq), comes to visit with his wife, Jo (Corinne Bourdon), and their new son--whom Theo has named after Vincent--Jo confesses to Vincent that Theo is becoming impossible to live with, due to increasing insanity brought on by the syphilis that will eventually
kill him. Later, Vincent finds himself increasingly distracted by Marguerite's attentions and the fawning of Gachet, an art buff and collector. He moves back into the hotel, working as a waiter and bartender to pay his keep, and eventually goes back to Paris, where his increasing frustration over
his stalled career leads him to fight with his brother, an art dealer who refuses to promote his work. When Vincent misses his train back to Auvers, a frantic Marguerite comes searching for him and is taken by Theo to the brothers' favorite brothel, where they find Vincent along with a drunken
Toulouse-Lautrec and a bevy of prostitutes, one of whom tries to seduce Marguerite.
On the train back to Auvers, Vincent and Marguerite make love but then quarrel, upsetting Gachet, who has come to the station to meet them. Soon after, Vincent is discovered with an unexplained gunshot wound. Gachet lacks the expertise to operate on him to remove the bullet, but vetoes any move to
a hospital. Vincent dies from the wound, but the film ends with Marguerite, dressed in mourning clothes, telling a young painter of her "friendship" with Vincent Van Gogh.
Early in his career Pialat was described, in Richard Roud's Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, as "discreet" and "restrained," even in his treatment of the most pathological areas of human behavior. Here, the two most "celebrated" events in Van Gogh's life--his severing of his own ear and his supposed
suicide--both occur offscreen, the former alluded to by his prostitute companion as having taken place before the film begins, and the latter seen only in its aftermath.
In marked contrast to the ferocity of Altman's treatment, Pialat's approach remains low-key throughout. Where Altman's Vincent seemed to be a man in uninterrupted turmoil, Pialat's contention here is that Vincent could not have possibly been the anguished artist who is usually portrayed; he
produced 70 works, including some of his most celebrated, in the last 67 days of his life. Pialat works through a slow accumulation of details in Vincent's life that come to make his death seem, not only unsurprising, but virtually Aristotelian in its inevitability.
For someone who apparently sought only to pursue his work in peace, Van Gogh's life is one of constant distractions: nubile teenaged girls throwing themselves at him (moving out of Gachet's house, Vincent becomes the apple of the eye of his innkeeper's young daughter); a beautiful whore he can't
escape, even far from the streets of Paris; and, the real passion of his life, the baby nephew who bears his name. Even trying to stop drinking proves impossible; he's unable to resist a daily tipple with a vintner who befriends him after he indulges the vinter's retarded son with a rough
portrait. Given his additional problems with his brother, it becomes difficult to see how Vincent accomplished so much in so little time. In context, his accomplishments become all the more miraculous. (Nudity, adult situations.)