A look at the life of painter Vincent van Gogh during the time he lived in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France.
Director: Julian Schnabel
Writers: Jean-Claude Carrière, Julian Schnabel
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Mads Mikkelsen
While Vincent Van Gogh was a tragically troubled individual, spending some time in his world as conceived by Julian Schnabel proved something of a tonic at a festival whose films get pretty dark at times. “At Eternity’s Gate” is a fortuitous project for Schnabel for several reasons, including the fact that newly discovered information has made Van Gogh’s biography somewhat revisable.
But the two most exciting things about the picture are Willem Dafoe’s performance as Vincent, and Schnabel the painter’s application of the cinema eye to Vincent’s ecstasies, miseries, and visions. Defoe often goes full Jesus as Vincent, and even today few actors do beatific better. And long scenes of the artist in the fields of Arles, showing what Vincent saw when he painted, constitute a form of pastoral that’s increasingly rare in movies today.
Schnabel can’t make a film about an artist without introducing a stand in for himself, and here that function is filled by Oscar Isaac, playing Paul Gauguin, and exhorting Vincent to think more about the interaction of paint and canvas, while Vincent insists that he must work in a single gesture, that this is what is meant by “the ACT of painting.” It’s interesting to see an artist’s exploration of Vincent’s process, and Schnabel was smart to enlist the verbally eloquent Jean-Claude Carriére as one of his screenwriters. This is a great rebound for Schnabel the filmmaker, whose 2010 “Miral” was an unmitigated disaster. Gorgeously shot by Benoît Delhomme, the movie is not just a pleasure to watch, but actually puts forward some new ideas about van Gogh.
– Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com