It should come as no surprise that the aspects of the painter Vincent Van Gogh that the painter turned movie director Julian Schnabel nails best in the making of his bio-pic At Eternity's Gate are the ones about the painting. Schnabel explicates the creative process by which a human being looks at a chaotic 360 world and turns it into a two-dimensional presentation with a purpose in ways that only someone who's suffered that same inexplicable impulse could ever suss out. Schnabel's camera rattles around like a maniac so badly it started to make me sick to my stomach, until I got it - the camera is Van Gogh's eye, looking and twisting and turning everything around, upsided, until it finds the right way to look at the thing.
We see this best in a sequence where Vincent (Willem Dafoe, giving a very Dafoeian performance) stares down a pair of boots on his rented apartment room floor. The camera runs down Dafoe's leg like a piss stream, spreading across the floor - it smashes against the window panes, the chair, his eyeballs, an insect intoxicated. The metaphors are as mixed as the colors dotting Van Gogh's fingertips. It's madness, this making the world pretty.
These shenanigans, visually relentless in a Blair-Witch-ian sort of way, at least get us in the right exhausting headspace, then. And Dafoe is ever watchable, a flickering candle flame of inspiration, gold and green and soot purple black - lighting wildly in his eyes, ever just out of reach, run your knuckle across it. The starry nights globs against his eyelids, gumming shut. Riotous exhales.
The movie though, it wanders a bit too aimlessly; Vincent, ever the odder stranger. You can feel the heat rising off of Van Gogh's palms but they stay swimming in search of something the film can't quite ever grab ahold of. I'd get trapped in a museum gallery staring at patches of this thing, muddy fields of sunflowers stirring alive, batting invisibly at my knees, but you can always sense the frame around everything; it stays an object, foreign on a shelf, pulled and pushed and painted by somebody else. There's no blood pooling in my eardrums, Vinny.
I don't think any new movie about Van Gogh can top Loving Vincent, that beautiful, poetic animated film that should have won the Oscar last year for once not going to Pixar. An intelligent, beautiful movie, so artfully done. So much for Academy of Motion Picture Arts...
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