Van Gogh

"Very Good"

Van Gogh Review


Would you believe that Vincent Van Gogh, the character, has appeared in at least 40 movies and TV shows? He's been played by everyone ranging from Kirk Douglas to Andy Dick.

This time out it's French singer-composer-actor Jacques Dutronc's turn to play the troubled master artist, recreating the final two months of Van Gogh's life, a feat which earned him the Cesar Award.

Though lacking key features (like the shock of red hair and the chopped-up ear), Dutronc oddly resembles Van Gogh in many ways. But more importantly, he manages to embody the obvious manic depression from Van Gogh's later years, all exuding from his scraggly face, sunken eyes, and bony frame. That's important, because Van Gogh isn't about much more than the man's internal struggle. Other characters come and go (from brother Theo (Bernard Le Coq) to his final love affair with his physician's daughter (Alexandra London)), but in the end we're left with Vincent and only Vincent, ultimately slowly dying from a self-inflicted gunshot to the belly.

Plotwise, the film is thin, despite a run time of over 2 1/2 hours. Van Gogh checks himself into a clinic of sort's (a doctor's house, actually) in the French countryside, due to extreme headaches. This doesn't keep him from painting and, more importantly, whoring it up with his favorite prostitutes. He romances the doc's young daughter (who's smitten with him), oblivious to his syphilis, and he spars with Theo, who's tasked with selling his paintings but can't seem to move a one. They're stacked knee-high in the dining room of him and wife Johanna (an understated and perfect Corinne Bourdon, who vanished from the scene after making this film).

Still, spending the days drunk and sexed up at impromptu parties on the riverbank don't seem so bad, and Van Gogh doesn't quite succeed at building a case for Vincent's misery. His physical pain is barely noted and his anguish over failing to sell his artwork doesn't get much play either. Director Maurice Pialat puts the burden entirely on Dutronc, which he manages to carry quite well.

But Pialat makes other mistakes, namely in his oddball editing and long treks into events that have no bearing on the plot. First, the editing: Pialat has the aggravating habit of chopping up a scene into pieces such that large chunks are excised completely. A character might sit down to eat, then abruptly be seen washing his plate, then abruptly climb into bed. But the background noise and music track never stutter: It sounds like it's presented as a single moment in time, but it looks like something quite different. This is a frustrating problem throughout the film, and you never get used to it.

The bigger issue, though, is Pialat's lazy sense of urgency. We're dealing with the end of a man's life, yet Pialat spends countless sequences watching tertiary characters eat, take baths, lie around, and otherwise live the life of someone on vacation. The film feels absurdly padded due to this conceit, and even when it's Van Gogh who's doing the eating, bathing, and sleeping, it hardly does anything to build his character.

Still, the searing Dutronc is the real reason to sit through the film. The film can be quite frustrating at times, but it does provide a glimpse -- here and there -- into what Van Gogh might have been like. Or maybe it's just Dutronc's interpretation of the man. Either way, it succeeds.

The DVD includes deleted scenes (if you feel you need more of them).



Facts and Figures

Run time: 158 mins

In Theaters: Friday 30th October 1992

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Maurice Pialat

Producer: Maurice Pialat

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