VIFF: Loving Vincent, Lucky, Django, Breathe, & The Square


Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman)

Loving Vincent, an animated film produced entirely of painted frames, is a testament to the vast possibilities of the cinematic arts and at once a complete denial of this potential. A brilliant innovation and a marvel to behold—painting, portraiture, and the fluidity of image strike awe in its viewer, recognizing at once that history has been made.

These distinguished qualities, however, are frustratingly deflected by the film’s unwieldy motivation for narrative. Taking place immediately after Van Gogh’s death, the crime/thriller/mystery story is an awkward eye-roll, seeking to provide drama by the confines of conventional narrative structure. For such a distinct film to make itself ordinary is a grand disservice to its seven year, one hundred artist’s exploits. Usurping its aspirations to create and convey art, the script and dialogue—an effort to explain and romanticize Van Gogh’s life and death—reduce the significance of his art rather than reveal it.

Master filmmaker and writer, Andrei Tarkovsky, said that painting, more than photography, resembles cinema, because painting reveals duration—a sense of time passing, cued by brushstrokes and colour. Vincent answers an important question; how may cinema and painting be put together. When the aesthetic of painted cinema is brought to the fore, such as in the opening and closing credits and each landscape shot, Loving Vincent presents something of a miracle, a unique art formed by the combination of two. Unfortunately, during most of the scenes, Van Gogh’s lovely painting style is used in vein, supporting instead a distracting call to appeal to our need for storytelling, a need unnecessary for groundbreaking cinema. What becomes clear is that Loving Vincent could have enhanced its effect if designed as a modern Baraka or Koyaanisqatsi, a painted revelation of life through Van Gogh’s eyes.

Lucky (John Carroll Lynch)

Lucky, a film both inspired and portrayed by Harry Dean Stanton, is equal parts joyful and mournful, raucous comedy and tragic melancholy. An elegy of life itself, Lucky presents the yin and yang of life, capitulated through philosophical quips, moments of reflection, and uninhibited real talk—the latter a quality of the eponymous Lucky himself.

Though not based on his life, Lucky’s character is drawn with Stanton in mind, and the film serves as a lamentation of his life during his final days—one which he would never come to see in its completion. His personality, experiences, and even some of the objects in his life become displayed as elements of a life long lived, 90 years of fortune being blessed on Earth. A gift to all of us, the film’s universal appeal is not lost; Lucky’s life, death, thoughts, and statements resonate with an audience who may vision a reflection of their selves in the character.

An added bonus to the film is the role of Howard, portrayed by the remarkable David Lynch. Lynch provided two days on set between shooting his magnum opus, an 18 hour long film entitled Twin Peaks: The Return. These two days were not squandered, as Howard steals the show with his bizarre affection for a missing tortoise.

Lucky’s tonal shifts are deftly handled, mellifluously flowing from one scene to another. It depicts the deeply depressing fear of death in Lucky’s tremble into bed; it depicts the fight to rationalize and understand the world in Lucky’s rants; and, most importantly, it depicts the joy of living in Lucky’s grateful smile into the camera to close the film.

Django (Etienne Comar)

A wonderful score drives Django’s tone and rhythm, a fluid movement of drama with multifaceted ends. Its reach is at once an achievement and a limitation, however, as the film’s attempt to cover every angle instead diminishes every angle. At once a concert film, a biopic of a musician, a family drama, a romance film, and a depiction of war, Django’s extension into many territories, though well handled, compromises the impact of each.
Chiefly in question is Django’s depiction of war, which feels more like a necessary backdrop than a genuine interest. The film’s authenticity as a true story is impoverished in this regard, instead relying on performance and relationships as its primary appeals.

Most vibrant are the concert scenes, where not only is Django’s unique fingering style heard but seen, impressively performed by Reda Kateb. As the characters are not embroiled in war goings, his music serves as escape from the pains and sorrows felt by those listening, in particular by Louise de Klerk (Cécile De France) who risks everything for Django’s gift. In a beautiful epilogue, two years into the future and after the war, Django conducts a requiem for fallen gypsies. A marvelous scene with all the spiritual fervor of a Kieslowski film, the orchestral music locates both the heart of the film and the sacrifices which inspired it.

Breathe (Andy Serkis)

Serkis’ debut feature inspires hope through its hero’s incredible journey, a progression from near death to full life. Diagnosed with polio, Robert Cavendish (Andrew Garfield in yet another impressive role) is confined to a bed in the hospital, life supported by a machine which breathes for him. Thanks to his devoted wife and friends, he takes miraculous steps forward in life, first exiting the hospital and next convincing the world to assume responsibility for its disabled.

An emotional drama based on true events, the film takes advantage of every Hollywood norm to glean over depth in favour of the superficial. Breathe’s narrative arcs are not unique; audiences have seen this film time and time again; the only thing that has changed is the subject matter. Such adherence to convention makes the film approachable, a true money maker, but at once lessens its efforts by becoming another drop in the bucket rather than a diamond in the rough.

What’s especially concerning about this is that the film is produced by Cavendish’s son. Though his father’s spirit is certainly brought to life, and one can tell there is something genuine about Garfield’s performance, one can also tell that the studio has taken creative license to bolster the film into light, airy, easily digested territory. As fodder for the average film goer, this is one to entertain in the moment and be forgotten upon its finish.

The Square (Ruben Östlund)

This year’s Toni Erdmann—Östlund’s Palme d’Or winning The Square is a biting satire mounted by a level headed, highly observational script which speaks primarily through subtext. Rarely on the nose yet presented clearly through body language, inflection, and gesture, its thoughts are those in everyone’s mind but outside of society’s indoctrinations—outside the square of society which we all voluntarily, absurdly, fit in.

Some of the film’s currents include our treatment of beggars, our interactions on the street, our interactions in social media, and our willingness—or lack thereof—to help others, to trust others, and to care about others. Portraying the selfishness of contemporary life, The Square asks us about our values and uses satire to make us realize how ridiculous our activities in life have become. It calls us to reflect on the present and be concerned about the future.

The square is symbolically presented through the film’s cinematography, often framing characters within an enclosure, implying our presence within the box and our unwillingness to step out of it. Certain scenes such as a spiraling staircase and a garbage bin in the rain make clear our sinking degeneration further and further into the box, deeper and deeper into a shameful society of the future. Conflict in the main character’s professional and personal lives suggest that, as a public figure, those shaping society are responsible and ought to initiate the contemporary social revolution. The Square poignantly closes on the image of a child’s face, an image of the future we ought to heed.


About Author

Kamran's areas of interest include formalism, realism & reality, affect, and notions of the aesthetic. With experiences as a TA, an event panelist, a presenter at conferences from UofT to Harvard, and a writer of a self-authored film blog, Kamran would like to share with others his profound interest in the profilmic in the hopes of inspiring, in them, a similar love for film.