In the biopic At Eternity’s Gate, director Julian Schnabel tries to communicate Vincent van Gogh’s relationship to art and nature vividly, using both filming style and colour to sometimes startling effect.
In his time, Van Gogh was an “outsider” artist, practising his particular methods in self-exile in the small community of Arles in southern France, far away from the suffocating dictates and politics of Parisian salons. The outlines of his famous life are there – the ear, the life-long penury, the adoring brother – but fleshed out for a glimpse of the deeply troubled artist who was never happy unless painting, while also suggesting his art was both symptom and remedy to his tortured mental state.
Willem Dafoe makes for a memorably haggard and haunted Van Gogh (Oscar-nominated for the role) and Mads Mikkelsen has a brief but striking role as a priest.
Despite moments of astonishing beauty and insight, the film can feel slow and repetitive. The resounding impact of the film lies in its powerful depiction of the artist and his visual perception, allowing the viewer a momentary immersion into that troubled, textured and multihued world.
Reviewed by Olga Azar