Entertainment » Movies

At Eternity's Gate

by Michael  Cox
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Feb 12, 2019
At Eternity's Gate

From the neo-expressionist visual artist Julian Schnabel, the director of "Basquiat," "At Eternity's Gate" is less a biographical docudrama and more a piece of video art. This portrait of the post-impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh follows the painter's final years, most particularly the time he spent outside of Paris in the South of France. And though it is structured in roughly a chronological order, the narrative is a series of disparate scenes that mirror the experience of looking at a series of paintings in a gallery.

Willem Dafoe plays the tortured van Gogh, a man who desperately tries to share his vision of the world through formal subjects and imaginative techniques. Meanwhile, he struggles to form meaningful human connections and loses touch with reality. The actor, who was nominated for both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for this role, enumerates the events of van Gogh's life with more childlike wonder than storm and stress.

The story is composed of a series of episodes, and each of these is a kind of canvas of its own. Using a bifocal lens to an indicated point of view, Schnabel moves back and forth between the objective and the subjective. At times the story halts completely and the image takes over, full of movement, vibrantly colored and intricately textural. Of course, there are also many visual allusions in the cinematography to great works of art.

Since history remains uncertain of many of the most famous events in van Gogh's life—like what actually happened to his ear and who shot him—Schnabel makes some creative choices. But more interesting than the answers that Schnabel and his screenplay collaborators Jean-Claude Carrière and Louise Kugelberg create are the relationships they hint at, particularly the relationship between Vincent and his brother Theo (played with deep sensitivity by Rupert Friend) and Vincent and the artist Paul Gauguin (played with manipulative charisma by Oscar Isaac).

Unfortunately, none of the actors playing opposite Dafoe get enough time on screen and the relationships are sadly undeveloped. And the bifocal subjective lens, though it certainly draws attention to itself, is hardly the most visually innovative technique. This film at best is visually interesting and narratively esoteric—and at worst is pretentious with a painful lack of momentum.

In addition to an audio commentary with the director and screenwriters, this Blu-ray contains a series of short, mostly promotional featurettes.

"At Eternity's Gate"
Blu-ray $29.95


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