At Eternity’s Gate
The tragic life of Vincent van Gogh has been realized on film by directors as diverse as Vincente Minnelli and Robert Altman, and there was even a hand-painted animated version of the story released last year. There would not appear to be much meat left on that bone, but if anyone could find new avenues and alleyways in this well-mapped territory, it would be neo-expressionist painter turned biopic director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). Starring Willem Dafoe as the tortured Dutch artist, At Eternity’s Gate covers Van Gogh’s productive but difficult last year in the south of France. Schnabel tries to give new life to familiar material through a self-conscious naturalism full of hand-held camera shots, long takes and lens flares. Unfortunately, this breath of fresh air eventually turns stale, and the film is ultimately more academic than tactile. Schnabel coaxes a feverishly potent performance out of Dafoe, but who hasn’t?