In Review: Van Gogh (1991) on Blu-ray

by Ben Nicholson on 23/09/2013


Imagine, if you will, a leisurely stroll through a picturesque landscape in the French countryside; the vista is a vision, the ambience tranquil. This is largely how one feels when in the company of Maurice Pialat’s ruminative biopic the famous Dutch painter, Van Gogh (1991), which has been exceptionally restored for its Blu-ray release as a part of the Masters of Cinema series.

The film refuses the temptation of a cradle-to-grave biopic in favour of a melodic evocation of the post-impressionist’s final weeks. Van Gogh (Jacques Dutronc) arrives in the provincial commune of Auvers-sur-Oise to convalesce in the care of Dr. Paul Gachet (Gérard Séty). His condition scarcely improves, however, and psychological issues are intertwined with a life of squalor, a parade of women and a predilection for morose introspection.

The ashen hue is predominantly metaphorical, though, with the cinematographer capturing the artist’s exquisite eye and providing sumptuous visuals in abundance. Almost every frame looks like it was, or should have been, a Van Gogh work.

The eponymous Vincent is interpreted by Dutronc with an ambiguity that is both enthralling and frustrating. The iconic moments of his life are barely mentioned; audiences are left to decipher his inner anguish from gestures which are unquestionably subtle. Only later, through his turbulent relationship with brother Théo (Bernard Le Coq), does the looming spectre of Vincent’s professional failings reveal its lengthy shadow over the artist’s mind.


The release is brimming with extras as is always the case with Eureka’s impressive MoC label. The wealth of additional bonus material comprises of two interviews with Pialat himself as well as interviews with Dutronc and Le Coq, cinematographer Emmanual Machuel and editor Yann Dedet. In addition are deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer and Pialat’s documentary short, Van Gogh, from 1965.

One of the highlights of a Masters of Cinema release is the booklet and this one is no exception. Sabrine Marques provides an insightful perspective on the kindred spirits of the subject and creator, echoed by the fact that some of Pialat’s own canvases are also featured.

Along with further words from the director, perhaps the most endearing inclusion is a letter to the director from one Jean-Luc Godard which describes Van Gogh’s cinematography as “far beyond the cinematographic horizon covered up until now by our wretched gaze.”

Ben has awarded Van Gogh three Torches of Truth


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