After Robert Bresson, Maurice Pialat is the master of French minimalist drama. His take on the Dutch artist’s life is one of his finest achievements.
An intimate epic, Pialat’s film details the last months of Van Gogh’s life, when he lived in France and, though tormented, created some of his most dazzling paintings. Rather than offer a blow-by-blow account of the events that unfolded over this period, Pialat builds an immersive portrait of the artist attuned to the world around him, fascinated by nature and how to represent it, but unable to exorcise the demons that trouble him.
Pialat’s obsession to detail is matched by Jacques Dutronc’s peerless performance. Like his director, Dutronc focuses on the minutiae of Van Gogh’s experiences – the rapture of nature and the world he resides in, while trying to stave off the agony he feels. There is no sentimentality here. Dutronc is as tough in his portrayal as Pialat’s images are unvarnished. The perfect collaboration between filmmaker and actor, Van Gogh is an extraordinary portrait of the agony and ecstasy of Van Gogh’s existence.