At Eternity’s Gate
Does At Eternity’s Gate get by on the strength of its leading performance alone? All the talk surrounding Julian Schnabel’s latest is around Willem Dafoe’s Oscar-nominated performance as Vincent van Gogh but what is equally impressive is the astonishing historical presentation of the painter’s final years in the South of France.
Anyone with a rudimentary education of art history will know the basic facts of the artist’s last years in France: this period saw him as a fertile wellspring of painterly activity, develop a relationship with famed French artist Paul Gauguin (portrayed here by the versatile Oscar Isaac), cut off his ear, end up hospitalised for mental health reasons and, finally, die by gunshot injury.
These events are depicted in a straightforward narrative, with some doctoring by screenwriters Schnabel, Jean-Claude Carrière and Louise Kugelberg. Previously accepted details of van Gogh’s life are squeezed by the neck, eventually revealing hidden truths – that’s if these filmmakers are to be believed. And why not buy their story, for they present it in such a convincing way, in major part due to the production design and photography.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly director employs his celebrated aesthetic, involving handheld cameras (estimated to be carried by five-feet tall individuals) shooting in close-ups, and as a result his film sometimes feels like the closest to an observational documentary on the artist.
Even more so due to the startlingly realistic production and costume work, which depicts the world of van Gogh’s paintings – the luxuriant, unspoiled nature, the antiquated buildings and the worn-out clothes – to a faultless extent, and some more. For all the heightened worlds depicted in big-budget sci-fi and fantasy features, At Eternity’s Gate offers a remarkable escapist experience in the form of time travelling to the Post-Impressionist era.
Certainly, Dafoe deserves to be singled out for his persuasively lived-in performance, manoeuvring through this knotty character arc with the virtuosity of his subject’s artistic technique. Mr Schnabel tries to aid Dafoe through visual disturbances in order to delineate van Gogh’s fuzzier mindset but ultimately these gestures don’t matter much as Dafoe is compelling to watch regardless. At Eternity’s Gate is a credible rewrite of history, owing to its lead actor and scenic designers.
At Eternity’s Gate is released in select cinemas and on demand on 29th March 2019.
Watch the trailer for At Eternity’s Gate here: