Loving Vincent ★★★

Vladimir Nakobov’s 1938 novel “Laughter in the Dark” begins with its rich and horny (but happily married) hero arriving at the vision that will ultimately ruin his life. A retired art critic with cinematic aspirations, old Albinus is struck by the idea of taking a famous painter, “preferably of the Dutch School,” and animating one of his signature works into the stuff of motion pictures. Film technology was still in its infancy, and it made anything seem possible. What if someone could use it to breathe new life into a static canvas, adding new dimensions to the artist’s vision and illustrating what might have happened in the moments before and after the one that was immortalized in oil?

Albinus, to his credit, recognized the unique challenges that might be involved in such an endeavor. “It would entail a delicacy of work calling for novel improvements in the method of animation, and would cost a whole lot of money… And the designer would not only have to possess a thorough knowledge of the given painter and his period, but be blessed with talent enough to avoid any clash between the movements produced and those fixed by the old master: he would have to work them out from the picture — oh, it could be done.” And now it has, for better or worse.

It took 125 painters, 62,450 paintings (yep), and the better part of a decade for writer-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman to get it done, but “Loving Vincent” is the first feature-length animated film to be made entirely of oil paintings on canvas. Given the amount of work involved, and the stilted effect of the finished product, it will most likely also be the last.