Tuesday, December 11, 2018

At Eternity's Gate

The latest from director Julian Schnabel takes us on a journey with Vincent van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) during the painter's final years. Shot in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône and Auvers-sur-Oise, France, where van Gogh lived during his final years, the film offers beautiful shots of the French countryside, countless close-ups of Dafoe's face and paintings, and a somewhat unfocused narrative on the artist's eccentric nature, loneliness, and view of the world.

The strength of Schnabel's film is the look and style and its more silent moments centered around van Gogh where some of the magic of the artistic's work is shown, but when the film moves from this to longer dialogues, often oddly filmed in extreme closeups, in attempts to explain van Gogh, the sequences are more hit-and-miss. Oscar Isaac as Paul Gauguin and Rupert Friend as Vincent's brother lead a supporting cast of those moving in and out of the artist's troubled life. Their scenes with Dafoe, and those involving a schoolteacher and unruly students, turn out to be the best of the sequences featuring Vincent interacting with others. But at its best, At Eternity's Gate focuses on van Gogh's interaction with nature and art, which to him were much the same thing.

Despite its success is showcasing the double-edged sword of van Gogh's talent, given its structure it's hard not to view At Eternity's Gate as anything more than a self-indulgent vanity project from the director who, even with various camera tricks, still struggles to get to the heart of the artist. More likely geared to art-house cinemaphiles, regular movie-goers may grow weary of the film despite the visuals Schnabel brings to bear. And, even for its target audience, the film is only marginally successful in meeting the director's lofty goal to bring audiences close to van Gogh and his work.

No comments: