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Any Eternity’s Gate

Year: 2018
Production Co: CBS Films
Director: Julian Schnabel
Writer: Jean-Claude Carrière/Louise Kugelberg/Julian Schnabel
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaac, Rupert Friend, Mads Mikkelsen, Mathieu Amalric

I knew a little bit about the tortured final years of Vincent van Gogh's life thanks to 2017's Loving Vincent, the film where every frame was a painting in Vincent's style, and to a kid bought up on Star Wars and Spielberg, the story was never going to really be the selling point (it isn't here either). But Julian Schnabel's film is all about a form you've never seen rather than narrative, so it's worth watching.

Vincent (Willem Dafoe, as effortlessly straddling the mainstream and the arthouse as ever) plays Vincent at a time in his life where he feels played out. He doesn't have any respect, makes few sales, and is living off his businessman brother Theo's patronage. Any other sponsor would be out of patience with his constant creative false starts, but Theo loves and believes in his younger brother to a fault.

He and his contemporaries in the town of Arles argue about the nature of art, God and interpreting the landscapes around them. He befriends his creative peer Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), a man far more confident in his abilities and saleability and who has no qualms about thumbing his nose at the local self appointed artistic establishment.

Vincent is bought to life having Gauguin around, but as he's battling what we now might recognise as bipolar disorder, he cracks completely when Paul tells him he intends to go overseas for an extended period to work. The infamous slicing off of his own ear is just one of the effects, this movie depicting is as a misguided attempt to show Gauguin how dedicated Vincent is to his career.

He then spirals downwards, leading him to the village of Auvers-sur-Oise and his ultimate fate.

Schnabel is much more interested in showing Vincent's fractured view of the world than the pivotal moments of his tragic final years. We don't see his cutting his ear off, for instance, he just shows up wearing a bandage around his head having already declared his intent to present to ear to Gauguin as a tribute of his devotion.

There are long stretches of him walking through bucolic French countrysides, trying to divine the nature of the air and vegetation around him almost by touch, and as the film progresses he's depicted with a crazily claustrophobic view with a fisheye lenses as Dafoe stares, anguished, into the sky.

There's also a persistent cast of soft focus along the bottom half of the screen, so pronounced I wondered if it was an error in the colour grading or something, but I like to think it was just van Gogh's sense he was steadily drowning in the sloshing waters of his demons.

It's experimental and it's a bit of a slog, but you'll feel more appreciative of what it was trying to do having watched it.

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