Van Gogh. A painting on the movie screen
The European masterpiece, “Van Gogh. At Eternity’s Gate”, directed by Julian Schnabel, follows the late life of famous painter Vincent Van Gogh.
Its uniqueness is determined by the director’s ability to recreate a world seen both from inside and outside the artist’s mind, switching from his eyes to the “eyes” of the camera close to him, and sometimes mixing an external vision with his thoughts that resonate persistently in his ears.
The story is sometimes dizzying and hallucinating, sometimes calm and quiet but always altered, somehow, by confused and dreamy visions, overlapping patterns and unnatural colors.
The given perception of the world, almost anxious and confusing about what is reality and what is not, the colors that recall those famous beautiful paintings, the changing seasons and all the events of his poor life portray a man of huge sensibility and sufferance, whose mind apparently wasn’t always normal. This film is highly subjective, and Vincent feelings are disjointed and analyzed from different angles to give a rich and complex perspective on his sensations; for example, the infrequent and jittery exchanges of words with someone, like his brother Theo, his friend Gaugin and few other characters reveal his shyness and diffidence, despite he often tries to chat with someone and feel some human connection.
From a technical point of view, this masterpiece hits the right notes with his color palette, that reflects the artist’s emotions and the atmosphere of the scenes. The colors used suggest the tonalities used in Van Gogh’s paintings, and the way he paints shows the artistic techniques he chose to use, against the criteria of that time. However, what is really surprising about this film is for sure the continuous movement of the camera, that breaks the traditional schemes and enter the settings, the story itself, instead of just showing it from the outside. The frequent close-ups on the face, the hands, the clothes and the objects transform us in little flies that fly around Vincent, studying, listening to and, somehow, feeling close to him.
This movie has many characteristics of the Art Cinema tradition, like the use of music as a key element in the structure of the film, the attention to details, the presence of objects and places that recalls certain habits of the artists and the writers of that time (drinking absinthe, meeting in cafés to discuss about the new artistic tendencies, dressing in a certain way), and the centrality of natural materials. Indeed, Van Gogh dirt himself many times with mould and mud, walks under the rain or explore the fields around Arles, touching rocks, flowers and trees. The importance given to the visual result of gross paint on the canvas, the impression that even the audience can touch that material, the alternation between cold external lights and warm, yellow lights inside the buildings are all other expedients to give physical relevance to the story, bringing, once again, the audience inside the film itself.
The drama and the strong emotional investment generated by each scene is precisely constructed balancing music, colors, movements, gazes and words. The music sublimates the vision of wide spaces suddenly interrupted by close ups to small details, giving a melancholic and often tragic tone to the whole movie.
The vivacious and energetic stillness of the nature, whose changes are slow and invisible, is continuously opposed to the impatient and quivering movements of the artist, whose energy is fully expressed through glances, gestures and words; these elements are attentively followed by the camera, that walks near the artist suggesting but not revealing Vincent’s thoughts, unless he acts out is thoughts to another character, or to the audience itself.
All these contrasts depict a complex story, developing in the spectators’ mind a sense of awareness of how this artist used to see the world, and make them finally feel the same fascination. The movie twists between small and wide, details and silences, and each element of the movie has the same awesomeness, composing throughout the movie an increasing sense of immensity that embrace everything, becoming eternity.