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Review: Van Gogh, Brush With Genius (2009)

Director: | 40 minutes | | Actors: ,

The best way to view and admire Vincent van Gogh’s work is, of course, to see it “in the wild”, a few meters (or closer) from the actual painting. At least you would think so. The (short) “Van Gogh, Brush With Genius”, shot with the intention of showing it on a large IMAX screen with high resolution, makes this statement a lot less self-evident. Not only did director François Bertrand have the privilege of filming Van Gogh’s paintings without the usual protective glass, they are also portrayed razor-sharp and in a way that can be called intimate. This documentary should therefore be viewed on the largest possible screen and in the best image quality (blu-ray, if it is a home disc). Stop the film at any time during such a shot, and you can continue to marvel at the sheer beauty of Van Gogh’s work, which has never been more compelling on display than here. In fact, all words are superfluous and this is all a lover of this master or of (painting) art in general should know. “Van Gogh, Brush With Genius” is an absolute joy to watch.

This – actually too big a word due to the fairly superficial and sketchy content of the film – is based for 90% on the visual splendor of the paintings of Van Gogh himself. The part around this is a lot less interesting and sometimes downright unnecessary. For example, Bertrand has chosen to portray a (different) director, Knapp, as he follows the life path of Van Gogh to record the important places he has visited and painted. In addition, a young lady is sometimes followed, Hélène Seuzaret, who analyzes Vincent’s letters (usually to his brother Theo) in the archives of the Van Gogh museum and cycles over some bridges in Amsterdam. Knapp is, of course, a stand-in for Bertrand, who himself creates beautiful images of nature and buildings that Van Gogh painted, and then let this flow beautifully into the relevant paintings. This has been done very nicely, but the physical presence of Knapp and his crew is totally unnecessary. The young lady, in turn, is an attractive appearance, but she mainly serves to be able to introduce Van Gogh’s letters to the viewer and to comment on them to some extent. Strangely enough, it is Van Gogh himself who comments on this.

As a last gimmick, Bertrand came up with the idea that the informative part is provided by Van Gogh himself, that is to say by a voice-over that must transform the thoughts of the master, as if it were the spirit of the painter himself looking back on his life and witnesses the present. It is slightly peculiar but quite an attractive and interesting shape, with which the otherwise perhaps dry food can be given a little more energy. At the same time, unfortunately, not enough is done with this by the filmmakers. The viewer receives a very global anthology of Van Gogh’s life, but usually removes the sharp edges or most interesting aspects. The important relationship with his brother Theo is not explored much, which also applies to his dealings with colleague Gauguin. And although it is indeed communicated how obsessive he was with painting, there is never really enough crawling into the head of this interesting and great artist. But perhaps forty minutes is also too short a time to really go into depth sufficiently.

Even if the content of the documentary leaves much to be desired and more works by Van Gogh could have been shown instead of the often frivolous filling material that is now present, what is shown by the master is so very worthwhile. worth that the film is absolutely recommended. The close-ups of the canvases show the thick brushstrokes – which are visible in their relief – as if Van Gogh had made them just minutes ago. In addition, the combination with the images of the real locations is a nice added value and Bertrand knows how to create picturesque pictures using the time lapse technique, with which time (light, dark, clouds, people) passes at lightning speed while the landscapes, buildings, and the paintings of Van Gogh himself, will survive. Bertrand may be a little too fond of his fisheye lens (for an alienating bulge in the images), but overall it is visually appealing. But of course Van Gogh’s work is a rewarding topic in this regard. Fortunately, Bertrand shows his appreciation for this work with his loving recordings. So enjoy a great artist like never before and let Van Gogh’s paintings come to life in your own living room with François Bertrands ‘Van Gogh, Brush With Genius’.

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