Van Gogh at the Movies

How high is your Van Gogh IQ? The doors to the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit will be opening very soon, so we’ve compiled a list of nine of the best Van Gogh biopics to get you ready.

The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit is a unique experience because of its integration of various art forms in order to bring you closer to the works of a great painter. The combination of digital projections, an original score by composer Luca Longobardi,

and some of the most famous paintings by the Dutch painter align for a wholesome sensory experience. Those same moving parts went into the creation of the films below.

This comprehensive list runs the gamut from hyper-dramatic Hollywood filmmakers to the understatement of French cinema — you’ll be sure to find a great selection for your next movie night!  

Van Gogh (France, 1948) — Youtube  
If you’re looking for the bare minimum introduction to the life and times of Vincent Van Gogh, this is the perfect start. The 20-minute short film by French director Alain Resnais (Hiroshima mon Amour) is a brief biopic on Van Gogh through his paintings and sketches, and set to a very dramatic music score. 

Lust-for-life

Lust For Life (USA, 1956) — Youtube
One of the earliest Hollywood films about Van Gogh, Lust For Life leans heavily on the more sensational details of Van Gogh’s tumultuous life. On the plus side, the filmmaking is superb, directed by the duo of Vincente Minnelli (An American in Paris) and George Cukor (My Fair Lady). The acting is even better: Kirk Douglas portrays Van Gogh and Anthony Quinn ruffles feathers as a rough-hewn Paul Gauguin.

Vincent and Theo (USA, 1990) — Itunes
The 90’s were a good time for Van Gogh biopics, and Robert Altman’s contribution focuses more on the underreported influence of Theodore Van Gogh, Vincent’s brother. Starring Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction) as Vincent and Paul Rhys (Chaplin) as Theo, this is the best pick if you’re in a mood for dramatic yelling and camerawork of a soap opera. 

Van Gogh (France, 1991) — The Criterion Channel
Balancing out the hyperbolic depiction of Van Gogh’s life by American filmmakers, director Maurice Pialat (To Our Loves) made a gem of a biopic. The film works because it doesn’t sensationalize his mental illness, handling it instead with psychological subtlety and the unique capacity for understatement of French cinema. 

Van Gogh: Brush with Genius (France, 2009) — Amazon
Yet another great French contribution to this list is François Bertrand’s Brush with Genius. Shot like a documentary but narrated like a drama in a similar style to the 1948 Van Gogh above. It’s also a great way to become familiarized with some of the works that will be featured in the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit. 

Van Gogh: Painted With Words (UK, 2010) — Amazon 
Of all the films on this list, this is the one that adhered to historical accuracy the most (despite how hard it is to picture Benedict Cumberbatch as Van Gogh!). This film tries something a little different: bringing equal attention to Van Gogh’s letters as to his paintings. All the dialogue is sourced from Van Gogh’s own words, and director Andrew Hutton (The Voice) is able to make the most of what is otherwise internal dialogue.

Loving Vincent (Poland/UK, 2017) — Youtube
This is my favourite film on this list, and it’s a shame it didn’t win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film that it was nominated for. The concept is as ambitious as it is worthy of its subject: the first feature length animation made entirely of paintings. 125 artists from across the globe came together to create 65,000 frames depicting the circumstances surrounding Van Gogh’s death. 

At Eternity’s Gate (USA, 2018) — iTunes
Director Julian Schnabel (Basquiat) paid his homage to Van Gogh with a visually stunning period piece about the painter’s time in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France. The film is a fiesta of colours combined for an ethereal realism by the cinematography department. William Dafoe is perhaps the best Van Gogh on this list, earning a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actor. (If Anthony Quinn’s Paul Gauguin is too uncouth for your taste, then you’re going to love Oscar Isaac’s version in this film.)

Van Gogh & Japan  (UK, 2019) — Film Site
And now for something completely different: a documentary about how much Van Gogh’s style was influenced by Japanese art. It might seem an ambitious premise, but works like his Almond Blossoms (1890) give it some credibility. Made by David Bickerstaff in the UK, of all places, the film is also a visually stunning tour of Japanese art and the colour palettes that Van Gogh was so beholden to.