A study of Van Gogh’s last years as seen through his tortured relationship with his brother, Vincent and Theo paradoxically is one of Robert Altman’s most cinematically conventional films as well as one of his most deeply personal. Bearing little resemblance to the glamorized, overheated Vincente Minnelli 1956 biopic Lust for Life, this masterwork operates in the intimate, thoughtful vein of the great BBC bios of artistic figures.
Altman and his incisive scripter Julian Mitchell focus on Vincent’s obsessive devotion to his craft and the failure of his overly timid art dealer-brother to win him acceptance in an art world that scorned his idiosyncratic genius.
The heart of the film is its exploration of the destructive, unacknowledged but important relationship between artist and patron. Paul Rhys skillfully inhabits a character even more wretchedly unhappy than his brother, who at least has the consolation of his art, and Theo’s own incipient madness gives the film much of its unsettling tone.
Tim Roth powerfully conveys Vincent’s heroic, obsessive concentration on his work, and then resultant loneliness and isolation.