The eternal struggle between madness and genius takes its toll on the brothers Van Gogh in this "luminous" (LA Weekly) masterpiece from Academy AwardŽ-nominated* director Robert Altman. Tim Roth and Paul Rhys give "stupend... more »ous performances" (Rolling Stone) in the roles of tortured artist Vincent and his brother Theo in this "beautiful, disturbing and powerful film" (Screen) that is "as rich and tactile as a Van Gogh painting" (New York Post).In life, hewas impoverished, his work largely ignored; yet today, paintings by Vincent Van Gogh fetch millionsof dollars at auction. This supreme irony is laid bare in the passionate story of an obsessive artist driven by inexorable demons and his alternately devoted and despairing younger brother, who seemsunable to live with him or without him.*2001: Gosford Park; 1993: Short Cuts; 1992: The Player; 1975: Nashville; 1970: M*A*S*H« less
"Director Robert Altman has with this film accomplished something biographers, writers of fiction, art historians and yes, filmmakers, have failed at for so long: to give us a convincing portrayal of painter Vincent Van Gogh's life without falling too deeply into the harmful stereotype of "the mad genius" or trying to explain him away as a severely ill man who happened to have groundbreaking talent.
Both Tim Roth and Paul Rhys give exquisite, painful, but never over the top performances as two men who are intimately linked in a way that suggests something more than mere brotherhood. Outwardly they have very little in common aside from being biologically linked: Theo is an art curator who endures the daily trials of the average man with perhaps a little more poverty; Vincent is an isolated painter who operates from an area of the mind and spirit which allows him no rest and no integration into society.
Tim Roth's Van Gogh is a quietly explosive figure who walks in the avenues of his own unrelenting pain and occasional ecstasy at the revelations he has in the most uncanny situations--drawing a prostitue while defecating, for instance. He is in some ways the opposite of Kirk Douglas' overbearing, sentimental painter who begs the world to understand him. This Van Gogh just doesn't care and sneers at the world unless it really bothers him, and then he lets everyone know how he's feeling in a way that is not to be ignored.
Rhys make Theo as interesting if not more. He is also "somewhere else", and not in the sense of a mere romantic cliche. He is a staid businessman but, like his brother, he is violently unable to reconcile himself to the world around him which is mostly composed of phonies and mediocrities. Throughout all the emotional outburts, all the ferocious fights between the two, there is an elusive thread of understanding that ties the two tightly together.
The scenes in which Vincent paints are not pleasant, as they are in so many other films. His agitation grows throughout the film though Roth plays it with a kind of poker faced approach. The lilies, flowers and all the things he sees so intensely do not bring him pleasure but buzz at him, attack his mind, creating the impossible desire to communicate his vision to others.
When Vincent realizes his "psychologist" is a corrupt, patronizing hack and that he is far too gone to be brought back to reality, his suicide is cold and impulsive. The rest of the movie is like a car crash. Theo cannot live without his brother and can no longer maintain the social fictions that allowed him to make a living before. And his syphillis is beginning to destroy him.
This movie is a masterpiece and will probably be the cinematic last word on the relationship between these two legendary figures in the history of art. "
A dark film under a bright sun
A. Siering | Austin, TX | 05/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is my favorite Altman film, and I think arguably his best film. However it is unquestionably the best film on Van Gogh.
My title for this review states that this is a dark film, perhaps a more fitting adjective would have been sober. The overall mood is fairly stern as Vincent's own mood appears to have been as well.
I can understand why some people may feel this film is insipid (although the adjective used by another reviewer was dull), the same way I could understand why many people might feel that Van Gogh's paintings are brutish and simplistic if it weren't for the fact they've constantly been told otherwise by the art establishment. In the end I just believe Altman nailed his subject, and this film ranks as one of the very best biographies on Van Gogh.
Tim Roth's performance was also very very good, and while so was Kirk Douglas' melodramatic performance in Lust for Life (a 1956 Hollywood film about Van Gogh), Roth has probably given us something much closer to the truth.
In short this film probably gets us as close to the reality of Vincent's last few years as we're able to come, and this ironically might be why some people dislike the film. Despite the popular image of Van Gogh as an expressionistic, even manic, personality, he was, the evidence suggests, a pensive, inflexible man who exuded an oppressive seriousness. No matter how much you like his paintings, now, he probably wasn't a person whose company you would have enjoyed, then."
Mr. Steiner | New York | 12/08/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Although Robert Altman is proficient in re-creating the scenery of Van Gogh's life through the eyes of the painter with striking color and a vaguely bohemian atmosphere, he still fails to present Van Gogh the man or the artist in with any genuine originality. He focuses on Van Gogh, the tormented saint-artist, who forges ahead on the canvas with a drive to present the "suffering" of humanity. However, Altman precludes Van Gogh's obvious manias, his periods of demented elation. It is impossible to believe that the Van Gogh presented here could have produced those vibrant wheat fields in Arles, or the Night Café. What remains in this fractured (though never incompetent biopic), is Tim Roth's virtuoso performance; he managed to literally crawl into the skin of Van Gogh, and the result may frighten you. However, his virtuosity always overshadows Paul Rhys' rather tepid presentation of his brother Theo, though there are other admirable performances in the film, such as Wladimir Yordanoff's amiable presentation of Gauguin. Altman seems to be commenting, rather uninterestingly, about the commercial dimension of artistry, and of the impossibility of true recognition of genius. This is a conventional portrait of the unrecognized genius, it is a tale told again and again. However, Altman's imagery is captivating (with the help of Storraro), the photography looks like vibrant haloes emitted by Van Gogh's paintings, though the musical score is dreadful and morbid. Still you much watch this one for Tim Roth's inspired performance if nothing else."
Yural Bayet | New York and Berlin | 03/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is powerful, poetic and highly evocative of the most likely real relationship between Vincent and Theo. You constantly feel the underlying stress and yet great love between the two brothers. It takes an artist like Robert Altman (and his son Stephen the set designer) to make great film about a great artist. "
Vincent and Theo: Brotherly Love of the Intense Kind
Author-Poet Aberjhani | Georgia, United States | 07/24/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have one favorite scene in the film VINCENT AND THEO, the late Robert Altman's highly acclaimed masterwork on the life of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. It is a short brutal scene in the first half of the movie when Van Gogh's model and mistress is leaving him: she slaps him witless, and then kisses him hard on the mouth before storming out of the apartment. That double action of pained frustration and loving adoration seems a sad but accurate metaphor for the entire film and possibly for Van Gogh himself. Whereas life bestowed upon him a bliss-filled kiss of exceptional artistic and spiritual vision, the hand of fate slapped him so hard that he was robbed of any lasting personal joy that might have come from this great gift.
Van Gogh (in the film played brilliantly by Tim Roth) is one of those creative geniuses of history whose life story continues to haunt and inform us from one century to the next. The question is why? Could it be because the beauty and evidence of that genius continues to increase with time and therefore makes us wonder about the cultural values and "personalities" we tend to either champion or malign in modern days? That it definitely does increase can be measured in one sense by the millions of dollars for which this eighteenth century impressionist artist's paintings now sell.
The whole point of Altman's film seems to be to illustrate how Vincent's genius found refuge for a while in his brother Theo's love. It is well known that even though Theo (who is played with mesmerizing neurotic precision by Paul Rhys) was a relatively successful art dealer, he was unable to manipulate the market to his brother's advantage. That did not, however, stop him from financially supporting him throughout his short adult life as a painter. Altman makes that point clear enough when Theo informs his brother that the money Vincent thought their father had been sending him had in fact been provided by Theo. Rather than belaboring this aspect of their relationship, director Altman moves his camera back and forth between scenes that show us how very much alike, and yet simultaneously different, Vincent and Theo were in their thwarted pursuits of a triumphant life.
As Theo eagerly courted "respectable ladies," Vincent just as eagerly enjoyed women of a certain profession. Whereas Vincent yearned to prove himself an artist worthy of the name, Theo yearned to prove himself a businessman worthy of prominence and prosperity. Vincent's descent into madness manifests more tangibly because it takes on the more graphically visual qualities associated with art itself: we see him court and then violently alienate the attentions of his equally genius friend Paul Gauguin; watch him stick knives menacingly in his mouth, cut off his earlobe, meekly endure his stay in an asylum, stand in a sunlit field where he has been painting black birds and calmly shoot himself. All the while, some of the most celebrated canvases in art history, depicting a virtual of ecstasy of sunflowers, starry nights, and golden wheat fields, rapidly pile up.
Theo is actually able to resist the powerful tug of debilitating madness until after his brother succumbs to it. That he does fall prey to it is tragically ironic because despite the syphilis that mars his happiness, he achieves some measure of the "ideal life" with a wife, new baby, and modest advancement in his career. He therefore appears to have all the motivation necessary to sustain a stable existence. But when he places all of Vincent's work (after the artist's death) in a suite of rooms for an exhibit, he screams at this wife that "this is the most important thing in my life!" and forces her to leave. It would seem at that point that he not only loved Vincent and believed deeply in his talent, but was in fact a kind of extension of him, and vice versa. The loss of Vincent on July 29, 1890, at the age of only 37, triggered in Theo a mental and physical collapse. He died less than a year later on January 25, 1891, at the age of 33.
This 1990 movie (released on DVD in 2005) is 138 minutes long so no one can claim it's too short. I only wish Altman had included somewhere in it the story of how--after studying for the ministry and before he became a painter--Vincent spent forty days nursing back to health a miner who had been injured in an explosion and whom doctors had expected to die. The miner's recovery was described as a miracle and, from the scars left on his face, Van Gogh experienced a vision of the wounds that Christ suffered from the crown of thorns placed on his head. Some allusion to this may have added greater understanding to the intense spiritual impulses that drove Van Gogh's devotion to his art and helped clarify what he hoped to communicate through it. Even so, the film as it stands is itself a remarkable painting of two extraordinary brothers who shared one profound and astonishing destiny.
by Author-Poet Aberjhani author of ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File Library of American History)"