He is regarded as one of history’s greatest ever artists, but for Vincent van Gogh life was anything but easy. His will to create was absolute and if by some sad circumstance he suffered for his art absolutely, yet he left works that were utterly transformative. Now in a brand new vision masterful painter turned director Julian Schnabel presents the story of van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate and it is an utterly transformative cinematic experience.
Famed but tormented artist Vincent van Gogh (Dafoe) spends his final years in Arles, France, painting masterworks of the natural world that surrounds him.
You do not get At Eternity’s Gate without Willem Dafoe. As a celebrated actor who has enchanted us in every known genre for more than four decades, Dafoe is a performer who has a passionate commitment to his craft. Whenever he takes on the guise of a new character he completely throws himself into the performance and with van Gogh he finds a man and a character that truly takes him to some extreme places. With a limited script and dialogue, Dafoe instead focuses on his physical performance to exude emotion and expression and he really manages to get under your skin. Through his trial, tribulations and ultimate pain, you can’t help but feel for him, and his troubled existence absolutely fills you with sorrow.
But what Dafoe really gets across with his performance of van Gogh is the idea of the creator persona. Dafoe’s van Gogh simply must create. For him the art of painting is an action he must do absolutely and he is bound to the images of his canvas. For him, it is harder to not paint than it is to paint, and throughout the film you see his drive take him to the brink of insanity. But while it may at sometimes be maddening, Dafoe does not shy away from the beauty of creation and of van Gogh’s vision to create things that are truly miraculous. Aligning ideas of both faith and art, Dafoe’s van Gogh sees his work as truly evocative of capturing the world around him as a gift to his heavenly creator.
Capturing the performance of Dafoe is the incredible eye of Schnabel, himself a noted artist, who makes the cinema screen his canvas with At Eternity’s Gate. For Schnabel, the visuals are what matter here and his attention is focused upon what he can compose in the frame, with the images speaking for the film and above the dialogue. With his camera, he really gets inside the mind of van Gogh and more importantly what he thinks, and with his almost documentary style he seeks to give his audience a behind-the-scenes look at the mind and actions of the great van Gogh.
With At Eternity’s Gate cinematography is everything, and coupled together with the haunting score of Tatiana Lisovskaya we have something incredibly moving. Cinematographer Benoît Delhomme (The Theory Of Everything, Lawless) uses light and shadow to paint incredible images here and he truly captures the endless beauty of the French countryside in pristine beauty. Fitting an artist of van Gogh’s relevance it is ideal that the film is told through images. With the use of wide-angled primes and fish-eyed lenses, we get the chance to see through Vincent’s own eyes, giving us an inside look into the inner workings of his own mind as it were. Captured with only natural light the film garners its own unique colour palette that is evocative of the painters work and you’ll find yourself enveloped with the images that are presented before you.
Bold and breathtaking, At Eternity’s Gate is an incredibly moving piece of cinema that utterly enchants its audience at every step. You see inside the mind of a truly creative soul and of his will to create. As a testament to the great van Gogh At Eternity’s Gate lives up to his true promise and its images will stay with you long after the credits have faded away.
Image: Transmission Films