Direction: Julian Schnabel
Country: USA / UK / other
Julian Schnabel’s proclivity for biographical dramas about renowned artists - Basquiat (1996) renders the street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat; Before The Night Falls (2000), the Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas; and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), the French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby - is not so surprising if you think he is a painter himself, one who marked the Neo-expressionism artistic movement in the late 70s and 80s. However, his directorial effort have not always produce favorable outcomes, which is now the case of At Eternity’s Gate, a personal depiction of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh during his last years in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France, where he died at the age 37.
Even with Willem Dafoe deeply committed to his performance, the film doesn’t deliver the goods properly as it misses a consistent dramatization of the tormented artist. Less dragging scenes in nature together with a more expeditious storytelling that could facilitate emotions, would have been worked in its interest.
Van Gogh’s vulnerability feels exasperating while his dialogue with fellow painter Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), an incompatible soul both in temperament and artistic style, was always monotonously oversimplified in tone and content.
While the piano score is fatiguing, the cinematography of the French Benoit Delhomme guarantees a beautiful light at every shot, occasional blurring the frames to give them the aspect of an impressionistic canvas.
Even when addressing the painter’s mental illness, obsession, and anxiety, Schnabel struggled to do away with certain apathy. The film then succumbs to its own torpid developments and the indifference only abandoned me during a brief conversation between the painter and a priest (Mads Mikkelsen), a scene with a sharper dialogue and aggrandized by close-ups. At Eternity's Gate is a superfluous biopic and a tedious experience slightly elevated by Dafoe’s acting efforts.