Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tim Roth, Paul Rhys, Andrian Brine, Jean-Francois Perrier, Vincent Vallier, Johanna Ter Steege, Wladimir Yordanoff
Written by: Julian Mitchell
Directed by: Robert Altman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 138
Date: 04/27/1990

Vincent & Theo (1990)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Starry Plight

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Telling the story of Vincent Van Gogh (Tim Roth) and his relationship with his brother Theo (Paul Rhys), Robert Altman's underrated Vincent & Theo is a tough film, a film full of suffering and anguish. It's very immediate, forever taking place deep within a given moment. Unlike most biopics, it doesn't tell the story from the point of view of modern times, showing Vincent making huge discoveries ("I know! I'll paint sunflowers!"). Rather, it shows Vincent struggling, longing, frustrated, and in agony. Theo works at an art gallery and provides an allowance for his brother, but he, too, is constantly frustrated at the insipid art that actually sells, while he is unable to sell truly great works. Things become more complicated when women, children, and other artists enter the men's lives. Altman's camera lingers over scenes, roaming through grim sets, focusing on the brothers' faces. There are moments in which they seem like regular brothers, sharing a common history, rather than the famous people they actually are. That's the movie's intimate achievement.

Olive Films released Vincent & Theo on Blu-ray for 2015, with a picture as rich and colorful as it is drab and dreary. The scene of Vincent abandoning and destroying a canvas in a field of sunflowers, the plants retaining their serene beauty in the face of human despair, is more potent than ever. The disc includes a trailer. (Interestingly, Paul Rhys went on to play another famous brother, Sydney Chaplin, in Chaplin.)

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