Friday, November 16, 2018

Movie with Abe: At Eternity’s Gate

At Eternity’s Gate
Directed by Julian Schnabel
Released November 16, 2018

Vincent Van Gogh was an exceptional painter, revered as many are only long after his life. His style was one that broke the mold of the times, and it’s fair to expect therefore that a story about the creation of his art would be told in a creative and inventive manner. Last year, the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Loving Vincent” captured his essence with a series of oil paintings, visually portraying his story in a way resembling his art. Now, Julian Schnabel, a filmmaker known for his own unique artistic approach, is giving the famed painter his own individualized showcase.

Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) sees the world through a very particular lens. He can’t look at a landscape without picturing it as a painting, and he spends most of his time sitting in front of his canvas. Unable to convince the world of his talent, Van Gogh is financially supported by his brother Theo (Rupert Friend), and latches on to a fellow artist, Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), who is far more comfortable than he is in social situations. Abandoned by everything but his art, Van Gogh immerses himself in it, isolating himself further from the world around him.

Schnabel is a renowned filmmaker whose career highlight was “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” which mesmerizingly told the story of a man paralyzed everywhere but his left eye. For what marks only the sixth film of his twenty-plus year career, Schnabel emphasizes the same visual style, lensing the film through Van Gogh’s eyes, including the bottom portion of his field of vision being blurred. The result is a series of intimate close-ups that invite audiences into Van Gogh’s head, often positioned directly in his line of sight or right in front of his face. It’s certainly one way to get to know the artist, but it feels jarring and unnecessary at times as well.

Schnabel’s fingerprints are all over this film, and he really makes the most significant mark on it. Dafoe, fresh off an Oscar nomination for his heartfelt role as a motel manager in “The Florida Project,” delivers another muted but evocative performance here as the tortured artist, conveying his passion for what he believes he must create in his every exchange. His performance, however, is overshadowed by the technical elements of the film, which are more distracting than anything else. There are a few moments of wonder but far more that feel too pensive and deliberate, trying to shape Van Gogh’s story in a way that doesn’t allow its main character to steer it.


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