Altman tackles the monumental story of Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo and, for the most part, comes up a winner. Working from a minimalist script by Julian Mitchell, the director offers us a stripped-to-the-bones drama that leaves most screen takes on the artistic life--from the
Hollywood bombast of LUST FOR LIFE to the self-conscious quirkiness of Derek Jarman's CARAVAGGIO--way behind.
The film's beginning is the director's most audacious conceit. We see actual footage of the painting "Sunflowers" as it is being auctioned off at Christie's, and Altman, one of the keenest users of sound in all cinema, sustains the soundtrack of the bidding during his opening scene between Vincent
and Theo. As the brothers argue over the money their rich uncle sends each month to Vincent to sustain his creative, if uncommercial, journey, the point is clearly made about the often arbitrary elusiveness of artistic success. Familiar ground is subsequently covered, including Vincent's
fascination with prostitutes and Theo's syphilitic torment. The story continues through Vincent's uneasy friendship with Gauguin, his encroaching mental instability, Theo's personal financial struggles as a gallery owner, and his troubled courtship and marriage to Jo Bonger (Ter Steege). The fate
of the two troubled brothers resolves the action.
As photographed by Jean Lepine, the film is visually stunning. VINCENT AND THEO is brimful of the pictorial splendors of nature and the human form, but they are captured fleetingly, in an off-the-cuff kind of way that suggests the finely attuned peripheral vision, the febrile antennae, of an
artist. The early scene of Vincent observing and rapidly sketching the whore as she takes a break from posing, stretches, looks through the window at the moon, and even relieves herself, comes as close to depicting the actual creative process of painting as anything ever filmed. The creation of
the sunflower paintings is aptly expressed in the silent, sketchy takes of him out in the fields, experiencing quick frustration more than anything else, with the end result a terse, panning shot of his room in Arles, filled with his finished efforts glowing from the walls.
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: R
- Review: Altman tackles the monumental story of Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo and, for the most part, comes up a winner. Working from a minimalist script by Julian Mitchell, the director offers us a stripped-to-the-bones drama that leaves most screen takes… (more)