Wednesday, March 18, 2020
At Eternity's Gate
Directed by Julian Schnabel and written by Schnabel, Jean-Claude Carriere, and Louise Kugelberg, At Eternity’s Gate is the story about the final years of painter Vincent van Gogh. Based on theories by van Gogh biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, the film dramatizes the events of van Gogh’s final years as well as his eventual death as the painter struggles to get attention and recognition for his work as van Gogh is portrayed by Willem Dafoe. Also starring Mads Mikkelsen, Rupert Friend, Mathieu Almaric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Oscar Isaac, and Niels Arestrup. At Eternity’s Gate is a rapturous and riveting film from Julian Schnabel.
Set during the final two years of the life of Vincent van Gogh, the film follows the painter as he struggles to make a name for himself while wanting to express himself artistically as well as questioning himself about his art and the divine. It’s a film with a simple premise yet it doesn’t play into a straightforward approach expected in films about real figures. Instead, it is a study of a man trying to find himself through his art as he also begins to question his being and worth as an artist and as a man while he would meet various people in his journey. The film’s script by Julian Schnabel, Louise Kugelberg, and Jean-Claude Carriere follows van Gogh in that journey where he often walks around landscapes in France as he would often paint what he sees as those who would see his paintings are convinced that he’s no good. Upon meeting the artist Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) in Paris as they both share their thoughts on art, van Gogh goes to Arles in the South of France to find inspiration in the landscape but is ridiculed by some locals for his aesthetics while a visit from Gauguin only adds to his emotional turmoil.
The film’s second half revolves around the events in which van Gogh had cut off his left ear as the narrative also feature voiceover narration from van Gogh through letters he would write to his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) who would fund his art. It is at this time that van Gogh would be sent to an asylum as he ponders about his art and such but also the beauty of nature and the divine. Even as he would continue to paint to the day he dies as the script also showcases the man’s delusions and episodes of mental illness as well as ideas of what might’ve happened on the day of his death.
Schnabel’s direction is definitely dream-like in some of the imagery he creates as he would also shoot the film on actual locations in Arles as well as additional locations in Bouches-du-Rhone, and Auvers-sur-Oise in France. Schnabel’s usage of the wide and medium shots add to the beauty that van Gogh was seeking but also something that is almost indescribable in trying to find the actual look of it which is why he paints fast. The attention to detail in the painting as well as what van Gogh sees adds to the beauty while some of the framing that Schnabel creates in the medium shots do match up to some of the paintings that van Gogh has created. Even in the close-ups as it help play into the sense of despair and torment that van Gogh endures with Schnabel often shooting scenes with hand-held cameras where the camera often glides or gets a point-of-view shot of van Gogh walking. The usage of the hand-held cameras would also play into the wonders of nature and the surroundings that van Gogh would encounter.
Also serving as editor with co-writer Louise Kugelberg, Schnabel’s usage of jump-cuts and dissolves add to some of the film’s emotional moments as well as play into van Gogh’s troubled mental state. Notably in scenes during the third act where van Gogh is in an asylum as it returns to the film’s opening scene where it is shown in a different context. It adds to this sense of despair and uncertainty in van Gogh where he meets a sympathetic priest (Mads Mikkelsen) who gets a look at one of his paintings and does express his opinion yet doesn’t think that van Gogh is a terrible painter. The third act also has Schnabel play into things that play into events relating to his work including a sketchbook that would be lost until 2016 and what happened to him on the day he died. Yet, Schnabel showcases a man that is driven by the beauty of his surroundings and hoping to capture it the way he and possibly God sees it. Overall, Schnabel crafts an intoxicating and enchanting film about the final years in the life of Vincent van Gogh.
Cinematographer Benoit Delhomme does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of lush colors and dream-like photography add to the films’ beauty as well as its usage of blurry lenses and some black-and-white shots that showcases the depths of van Gogh’s psyche. Production designer Stephane Cressend, with set decorators Sonia Gloaguen and Cecile Vatelot plus art director Loic Chavanon, does brilliant work with the look of the places that van Gogh would go to and stay at as well as a tavern he would frequent at and the asylum where he spent some time during his illness. Costume designer Karen Muller Serreau does fantastic work with the ragged clothes that van Gogh wears as well as some of the clothes the other characters wear.
Special makeup effects artist Jean-Christophe Spadaccini and special effects makeup designer Mark Wotton do terrific work with the look of a few characters including van Gogh after he had cut off his left ear. Visual effects supervisor Arthur Lemaitre does nice work with the visual effects as it is largely minimal in presenting van Gogh without his left ear and a few bits of set dressing. Sound editor Thomas Desjonqueres does excellent work with the film’s sound in the way it repeats lines of dialogues to play into van Gogh’s delusions as well as capturing natural sounds as it is a highlight of the film. The film’s music by Tatiana Lisovskaya is amazing for its lush and somber piano sonatas and low-key orchestral touches that play into the film’s melancholic tone as well as the sense of wonderment that van Gogh endures.
The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Anne Consigny as a schoolteacher who is disgusted by what van Gogh is painting, Louis Garrel as the voice of an article by an art critic, Lolita Chammah as a young woman van Gogh meets at the film’s beginning, Vincent Perez as an art gallery director, Amira Casar as Theo’s wife Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Vladimir Consigny as an asylum doctor, and Niels Arestrup as a madman van Gogh converses with at the asylum about insanity. Mads Mikkelsen is superb in his one-scene performance as a priest who converses with Van Gogh about art and the divine as it is a low-key performance from Mikkelsen who provides a sense of warmth to the character. Mathieu Almaric is fantastic in his small role as Dr. Paul Gachet as a man who is a subject of one of van Gogh’s paintings as well as be someone who would be with him on the last day of van Gogh’s life.
Emmanuelle Seigner is excellent in a dual role as the woman from Arles who becomes a subject of one of Van Gogh’s paintings as she would give him a place to stay while other role as Madam Ginoux is brief as the woman who would unknowingly have van Gogh’s sketchbook and put in a place that she would forget about. Oscar Isaac is brilliant as Paul Gauguin as an artist who shares van Gogh’s ideas about aesthetics yet becomes baffled by what van Gogh is trying to find through art believing that van Gogh would never get any attention. Rupert Friend is amazing as van Gogh’s brother Theo as a man who is also funds van Gogh’s work as he becomes concerned about his brother’s emotional and mental well-being. Finally, there’s Willem Dafoe in a performance for the ages as Vincent van Gogh as this tormented artist who is trying to create art that means something while dealing with rejection, criticism, and himself as Dafoe play into this man’s struggle as well as wanting to create something that he believes is closer to what God would see as it is a towering performance from Dafoe.
At Eternity’s Gate is an outstanding film from Julian Schnabel that features a career-defining performance from Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh. Along with its ensemble cast, Benoit Delhomme’s ravishing cinematography, Tatiana Lisovskaya’s somber score, and its exploration of an artist trying to create art that is divine. The film is an unconventional yet enthralling film that doesn’t play into the traditional schematics of a bio-pic in favor of studying a man trying to capture nature at its most pure. In the end, At Eternity’s Gate is a magnificent film from Julian Schnabel.
Julian Schnabel Films: Basquiat - Before Night Falls - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Lou Reed-Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse - Miral
Related: (Lust for Life) – (Vincent & Theo) – (Dreams (1990 film)) – (Loving Vincent) - The Auteurs #43: Julian Schnabel
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