Wednesday, March 28, 2012

84. VINCENT & THEO (1990)

After recently making my way belatedly though all three seasons of LIE TO ME on Netflix, and enjoying them very much, I wanted to cleanse my palate, so to speak, by revisiting Tim Roth in another performance. In this fine Robert Altman film, based on an original script by Julian Mitchell, he is actually more sedate as the turpentine-drinking, paint-eating, ear-cutting Vincent Van Gogh than as Dr. Cal Lightman, strutting, in-your-face man of science. Despite a comparative lack of outsized histrionics, he manages to carry the film with great success -- he's less robust, less earthy than Kirk Douglas' Van Gogh in LUST FOR LIFE, but he's much more attuned to the scale of those real artistic personalities I've known, particularly those of unquestionable vision who, for whatever reason, have yet to really taste success. He's splendid, perhaps definitive, in the part. As the complementary personality of Vincent's art dealer brother Theo, Paul Rhys keeps the film in balance, the Welshman making an even more believable Dutchman than Roth, though at times he seems a bit too under the spell of Jeremy Irons' tics and mannerisms.

The script checkerboards between the two brothers, in Holland and France, often finding similarities in their actions and obsessions to underscore psychic ties and parallels. When the two inhabit the same space, the tensions between the responsible younger and the irresponsible elder -- one diseased with syphilis, the other with mental illness -- become intolerable and explosive. Johanna ter Steege is especially good as Theo's wife Jo, and Wladimir Yoranoff is Paul Gaughan, who ably conveys a sense of torn artistic envy and sympathy as he attempts to share the pressure cooker environment of Vincent's humble digs. The scene in the sunflower fields is particularly effective, photographed in swooping shots that make the flowers look maddening in their sheer monotonous multiplicity.

Gabriel Yared contributes an ambitious and memorable score, alternately dissonant and modernistic and orchestral and lyrical -- worthy of a CD release. The domestic release of the film being shown by Netflix runs a healthy two hours and 20 minutes, but a longer European television version also exists, running a full hour longer; this version is available on DVD in the UK from Network Video. It's a testament to the quality of Altman's work that this shorter (!) version feels quite complete and satisfactory on its own.

Viewed on Netflix.

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