Following on from last year's beautiful and history-making (the first oil painted animated film) Loving Vincent, the artist's life is brought to the screen in the Oscar-nominated At Eternity's Gate. Focusing on Van Gogh's life in the
At Eternity's Gate very much belongs to Willem Dafoe, who gives a harrowing, heartbreaking performance as the deeply troubled, thoroughly misunderstood Vincent. What narrative journey there is comes through Dafoe's acting, as his portrayal runs a gauntlet of hope and despair, often morphing mid-scene. It is hard for much else to cut past artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel's intimate style (which will be familiar to those who've seen his previous work, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) but there are great fleeting turns from a raft of stellar performers with the likes of Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Mads Mikkelsen and Mathieu Amalric all leaving notable impressions when on screen. But this film first and foremost belongs to its Oscar-nominated Vincent.
The film often shifts tonally in front of your eyes, almost jarringly so. At times it resembles a Lynchian horror, with audio overlapping and the camera often moving towards extreme, uncomfortable close ups. At others it gains a clarity and a visual vibrancy, adopting sweeping shots of landscapes. It is one of the more effective biopics at getting to route of the inner workings of its subject. It feels odd to point this out, but At Eternity's Gate is an intensely downbeat film, finding little joy in Van Gogh's bleak final chapters. It makes this a brave if somewhat unapproachable prospect. The film's narrative traces the exact path the audience expects it to and the absence of hope makes this a gruelling watch, the film never quite able to reach for the profundity it seeks.
At Eternity's Gate is a jarring biopic that often eschews the traits of its genre. The bleak subject matter, coupled with a disorientating style, will make this a tricky proposition for some audience members, as the film struggles to find the emotional impact for such a tragic story. Yet while the film itself is not without its flaw it does contain another stellar performance from Dafoe, which nestles well alongside recent work in the likes of The