At Eternity’s Gate: Film Review

During awards season, I was really annoyed that At Eternity’s Gate was the only gap in my film knowledge, the only film in a major category that I hadn’t seen, and now I’ve finally seen it I can say it wasn’t worth the wait.

Willem Dafoe portrays the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh in the final years of his life in Arles in the South of France and Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris. We watch him spending his days painting, battling mental health issues, being treated like an outsider by the locals due to his eccentric behaviour, and of course, being sent to a mental institution after cutting off part of his ear. Although Van Gogh is thought to have died in 1890 due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the film works with the controversial theory that he was shot by two boys.

Dafoe earned a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the famous painter and it’s easy to see why. Although he is way older than Van Gogh was (he died aged 37 and Dafoe is 63), his performance is subtle but impressive, showing a man slowly losing control over his mind. He had good support from Rupert Friend as his supportive brother Theo, Oscar Isaac as the artist Paul Gauguin and Mads Mikkelsen as The Priest.

However, I didn’t like the way the story was told. It was slow, meandering and quiet and, given that the facts of Van Gogh’s final years are well-known, it was quite dull in places. The pace was a struggle and I really had a battle on my hands trying to concentrate. I know Julian Schnabel was trying to be arty with his quiet contemplative shots, and some of them are beautiful (especially when Van Gogh is painting in the fields), but it was told in an experimental way that I wasn’t a fan of. I didn’t love the narration, the jarring way music and action would be cut off between some scenes and how the actors mostly spoke in English but occasionally spoke in French.

So if you’re a fan of art and Van Gogh than this would be worth a watch for you, or if you like Dafoe then it’s good to see him doing some of his best work, but if you want an engaging biopic then look elsewhere, perhaps at the gorgeous Loving Vincent.

In selected cinemas Friday 29th March 

Rating: 2/5

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