Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. Netherlands/United Kingdom/France/Italy/Germany, 1990. Belbo Films, Arena Films, Central Films, La Sept, La Sept-Arte, Telepool, RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana, Verenigde Arbeiders Radio Amateurs, Sofica Valor, Centre National de la Cinématographie, Région Languedoc-Roussillon. Screenplay by Julian Mitchell. Cinematography by Jean Lepine. Produced by Ludi Boeken, Emma Hayter. Music by Gabriel Yared. Production Design by Stephen Altman. Costume Design by Scott Bushnell. Film Editing by Francoise Coispeau, Geraldine Peroni.
Robert Altman is absolutely at the height of his power as a director in this affecting portrait of the relationship between painter Vincent Van Gogh and his art dealer brother Theo. It captures the last years of Vincent’s life, when his devotion to his art envelopes him so wholly that he pretty much gives his sanity up to it, living in the provinces like a peasant and drawing his inspiration from the people he lives with and the nature that surrounds him. Meanwhile, his completely opposite brother struggles to get by on a gallery employee’s salary, peddling acceptable art to patrons while hoping to slip in one of his talented brother’s works, but to no avail. Rather than treading the usual paths that stories of Van Gogh rely on, usually as a loser in love who takes his melancholy out on the canvas, Altman opts for a much more complex look into this man, as well as his equally involving brother. The pacing is deliberate and slow, but once you acclimate yourself to it there is much to gain from the beautiful cinematography by Jean Lapine, which practically recreates a Van Gogh painting on the screen, and the minute details of the lead actors’ work is that much more observable. Tim Roth puts fanatic devotion into his portrayal of Vincent, while Paul Rhys inspires much sympathy as a man with the impossible task of having to to help his brother and love him at the same time.