Two films celebrate the tragic life of the Dutch artist. The one which attracted most criticism was directed by Julian Schnabel. Let’s see why…
Vincent Van Gogh was born on 30th March 1853 in Zundert, a small town in Holland. This year marks 166 years since he came into the world not only as a painter but also as a visionary genius.
Two films have come out recently based on his life: “Loving Vincent”, an Anglo-Polish production, and the far more controversial “Van Gogh – At Eternity’s Gate” by the American director (and artist) Julian Schnabel.
The first of the two films is an animated movie where the works of art come to life in a sort of conventional biography. Some have, quite rightly, described it as a “painted film”.
The second, starring actor Willem Dafoe as the tragic Dutch painter, has been much criticised for one scene in particular. The fateful gunshot which in 1890 – at just 37 years of age – put an end to his life. Spoiler altert if you want to read on…
For Schnabel that bullet was triggered inadvertently by some youngsters while historians agree on the universally accepted theory that it was suicide.
The stature of the director shines through however, in the way he manages to make us “see” the way Van Gogh actually saw, looking at elements of nature like the sky, the fields, the grass, trees, and even the wind. Things which we glimpse today in his most famous works, while the director ventures beyond the surface and shows us what was going on between the gaze and the mind, what Vincent was actually imagining.
Something so vivid and original that it went beyond codified painting terms such as Realism or Impressionism. Something elaborate yet extravagant. There is definitely an originality in the unbridled painting of Van Gogh, an outpouring of life.
A life which came to an end ten years before the 19th century. In May of 1890, a Vincent already infected with the seeds of madness left the psychiatric clinic of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence to return to the North, in the countryside around Paris, not far from his beloved brother Theo, his wife and their little son.
He settled in Auvers-sur-Oise, thirty kilometres from the capital, a village which was also home to the doctor Paul Ferdinand Gachet who would take care of him to the end.
His arrival in this place revived his innate zest for life: the countryside was so lovely that it raised his spirits. But on 27th July, he went out to paint, and came home seriously injured. He immediately confessed to his family that he himself had fired the shot which two days later would take him to his grave.
He was buried in the nearby town of Mery since the parish priest of Auvers-sur-Oise refused to bless the body of Van Gogh. A suicide was undeserving of that last rite of Christian mercy.