Posted Mar 28 2019

At Eternity's Gate - This Movie Artfully Rocks

Dir: Julian Schnabel

Starring Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Emmaunelle Seigner, Mads Mikkelsen, Mathieu Alamric

Julian Schnabel’s still-life portrait of Vincent Van Gogh tries its damnedest to get inside the very mind of the man, in thrall to his artistic life. As such, the director’s often handheld camera is constantly almost crashing into the face of Dafoe, as if trying to get behind his eyes and inside his head, a neat reversal in many ways of Schnabel’s previously wonderful The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, where the struggle was always to see out.

The fact that this film succeeds to such a great degree is in part down to a never better performance from Willem Dafoe as the (self?) tortured artist. That it becomes so accessible is, however, down to Schnabel’s embracing of the environments and the feelings the painter had for the landscape that at times almost seems to overwhelm, even consume him. Capturing both the beauty of the land, but, more importantly, capturing the impact that Dafoe conveys it having on him, elevates At Eternity’s Gate to a masterful look at not so much Van Gogh’s life as his life through the prism of his work. Ironically, it makes last year’s beautifully animated Loving Vincent feel almost lifeless by comparison.

Schnabel casts Dafoe adrift in a series of beautiful backgrounds and lets him find his way both into and out of them by the pictures he paints. Yes, there are discussions on the nature of the subject with Paul Gauguin (a splendid Oscar Isaac) and his brother Theo (Friend) but this is first and foremost a visual movie, suffused with a tactile sense of creation.

Radiantly shot by Benoit Delhomme, constantly reflecting the primary palate of Van Gogh’s own work, and with a beautiful and never over used score by Tatianna Lisovskaya, Schnabel and his collaborator Dafoe evocatively bring both the man and his work to a striking, impressive life.

 Overall, it’s no Lust For Life (but what is), but it’s also thankfully no Vincent and Theo. What it remains is a fascinating portrait of an artist trying to express the creation of art – though distinctly not trying to explain said creation – through another artist. And as such it’s really quite remarkable.


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