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With: Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Mads Mikkelsen, Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Niels Arestrup, Anne Consigny, Amira Casar, Vincent Perez, Lolita Chammah
Written by: Jean-Claude Carrière, Louise Kugelberg, Julian Schnabel
Directed by: Julian Schnabel
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic content
Running Time: 110
Date: 11/16/2018

At Eternity's Gate (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Paint of Heart

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel's fragmented, interior look at Vincent Van Gogh's life, captured with roving, POV camerawork and experimental sound, is challenging, but sometimes quite powerful.

In At Eternity's Gate, Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) is having little success with his paintings in Paris in the 1880s. He meets avante-garde painter Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), who encourages Vincent to travel south. In Arles, thanks to funding from his loving, supportive brother Theo (Rupert Friend), Vincent rediscovers nature and begins painting his remarkable landscapes and flowers. But his drinking and turbulent behavior frequently get him in trouble.

A visit from Gauguin lifts Vincent's spirits, but when the time comes for his friend to depart, Vincent cuts off his own ear with the intention of sending to him. He winds up in psychiatric hospitals, before being discharged to Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890, where Dr. Paul Gachet (Mathieu Amalric) looks after him. There, he paints some of his most important work, but, alas, his time left on earth is short.

Dafoe's deeply committed performance as Van Gogh in At Eternity's Gate unquestionably drives the movie, though. The movie carefully avoids showing very many of Van Gogh's rages or fits of lunacy, showing mostly the aftermath, and his feelings, and fears, around his acts. It makes for an appealingly sad, lost, character without any of the showiness that might come from a typical biopic.

With its singular focus, however, the movie misses a chance to deepen relationships between Vincent and either his brother Theo or Gauguin, although deeply thoughtful dialogue, co-written by the legendary Jean-Claude Carrière, co-writer of the great Luis Bunuel's final six movies, released 1967-1977, provides plenty of fascinating talk about the nature of art, painting, and existence.

Schnabel also offers a meticulous, convincing re-creation of what Van Gogh's style might have been like, with many close-ups of hands applying thick daubs of paint in little spots and dashes. It adds great dimension to the paintings, and makes them seem more alive, more vivid. However, the often-wobbly, sometimes deliberately blurred camerawork may make some viewers seasick. Nevertheless, At Eternity's Gate joins a long list of already-existing movies about Van Gogh, and it makes itself welcome among them.

Lionsgate released a Blu-ray edition with a digital copy included. The picture and sound are superb, and this is actually one of those films that will play arguably better at home, given Schnabel's off-kilter and sometimes wobbly camerawork. (Also, pausing to see some of the artwork or compositions will be a treat.) Schnabel provides a commentary track with co-writer and editor Louise Kugelberg. There are three short featurettes, about 2 minutes each, and a theatrical trailer, in addition to other Lionsgate trailers at startup.

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