Paul Cox is an unusual filmmaker, as evidenced by such narrative features as "Man of Flowers" and "Lonely Hearts."
But "Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh" will probably cause even Cox fans to be surprised by some of the offbeat choices he makes.
"Vincent" is a documentary, but not your ordinary run-of-the-mill documentary. Cox has set out to make a very personal film, one that will help the moviegoer better understand not only the "life and death" of his subject but also his passion for painting.
It's well documented that Van Gogh led a turbulent, tortured life. Most of us know that he received virtually no recognition for his talent and sold only one painting in his lifetime but that "Sunflowers" sold last year for $40 million.
But those who have not made a study of the artist may be in for some revelations as the narration here — read with flowing interpretive style by John Hurt — is composed of Van Gogh's letters, most written to the brother who supported him.
Likewise, the film is essentially a straightforward account that takes Van Gogh's point of view. Though a great deal of the film's visuals are made up of Van Gogh's paintings and lovely shots of fields and villages where Van Gogh painted, there are also recreations, scenes in brothels and apartment buildings, shown through the artist's eye. There are even remarkably accurate models posing for some of his work.
Most of the time the technique works rather well, as Hurt gives feeling to Van Gogh's philosophical ramblings, his musings on life in general and his painful explanations for his own frequent irrational behavior. But occasionally, as with the hand-held, home-movie style he takes for the infamous ear-removal sequence or observations out train windows or when he expresses his love to his cousin or at his ultimate suicide, it simply seems pretentious.
But for those interested in art or Van Gogh in particular, "Vincent" is an unusual and unusually absorbing work. Certainly it is an original vision. And that is perhaps most accurate for a look at a most original artist.