Tuesday, November 21, 2017
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opinion / Columnists

Feel-good movies

opinion / Columnists
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Feel-good movies

I didn’t know it would be like ‘CSI,’” commented the hubby as we beheld the movie “Loving Vincent.”

We had expected the “moving paintings” in this film about the last days of the life of artistic legend Vincent Van Gogh. And indeed it was breathtaking seeing Van Gogh’s oeuvre, many of them familiar, brought to cinematic life, with the characters moving and talking, the skies and trees shimmering in the bright sunshine, the blackbirds winging their way through the skies, the lamps sputtering and shattering the darkness, and, yes, the stars dancing and whirling against the backdrop of the evening sky.

Even without dialogue, I would have sat entranced and fascinated for the nearly two hours of the movie, watching Van Gogh’s landscapes and portraits brought
to astonishing life.

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But there was an actual story, too, a whodunit, in fact, about how exactly the painter died. Was it by his own hand, or was he a murder victim whose passing was covered up by friends and townsfolk?

The search for answers is instigated by the postmaster of Arles, who had become the painter’s good friend, who sends his son Armand to deliver a letter that Van Gogh had left for his brother Theo. In Paris, the yellow-jacketed Armand finds out that Theo died shortly after his brother did. Armand then sets out for Auvers-sur-Oise, where Van Gogh died, and searches for the answer to his question: “How does a man go from being absolutely calm to suicidal in six weeks?”

Taking place a year after Van Gogh’s passing, Armand’s investigative work paints a portrait of a man of contradictions: polite yet aloof, filled with zest for life and the drive to put all down on canvas in his own dynamic style, but also often morose and guilt-ridden.

For viewers, though, “Loving Vincent” is an education on art, on the breakthrough of modern art said to have been “fathered” by Vincent, and on the connections
between psyche and expression. The film is also masterful, said to be “the world’s first painted animation feature work.”

Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman enlisted “tens of thousands” of artists from all over Europe to recreate Van Gogh’s paintings and create many more that mimic his signature style. It had a very brief run in local theaters, but I hope those who were able to catch it spread the word and build the clamor to bring it back, for it deserves wider interest. And we moviegoers deserve more moments of beauty and reflection to brighten our tawdry existence.

A feel-good story is the continuing presence of “Seven Sundays” in local theaters. When I saw it early in its run, I immensely enjoyed it but wondered how long its commercial run would last. The theater was about half-full and though the cast counted among them guaranteed box-office stars, the story itself—about an aging widower struggling to keep his battling brood together—didn’t seem to lend itself much to commercial success.

That it’s still around tells us that perhaps the audience has matured, or at least has developed an affinity for films that dare go beyond blockbuster themes and instead focus on the “small world” of the family.

Perhaps the acting has a lot to do with it. Everyone in the main cast—the wonderful Ronaldo Valdez, Aga Muhlach in a return appearance that has him abandoning his heartthrob appeal for a meatier mature role, Dingdong Dantes who rises above his commercial appeal for a more vulnerable persona—draws our attention and our sympathy. Even Cristine Reyes, Enrique Gil and Ketchup Eusebio in smaller roles still manage to hold their own. I particularly enjoyed an exchange between Valdez and Muhlach, played down despite the temptation, I’m sure, for director Cathy Garcia Molina to milk its emotional heft dry.

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It does my heart good to know that in an environment of sugary rom-coms and fevered dramas, there is still room in the local movie scene for works like “Seven Sundays,” which tell a “quiet” story about a family that copes with issues all of us have to deal with—aging, infidelity, sibling rivalry, failed expectations, even overseas work—without sacrificing substance for the sensational.

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TAGS: CSI, Loving Vincent, moving paintings, Vincent van Gogh
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