The restraint brings not only a degree of modernism to the film, but also a measure of resonance for 21st century audiences. Its concern with love, art and mortality is infinitely relatable, especially when presented with the director's characteristic thematic elegance. Pialat's van Gogh is not an exaggerated real life caricature; Dutronc plays him as a quiet misanthrope, with his unassuming gait and hesitant demeanour barely concealing his intense charisma. He is a difficult, determined man; "His many weakness add up to a strength," notes one character. Like Jacques Rivette's La Belle Noiseuse from the same year, Van Gogh is not a film about a single painter, it's a film about the unrestrained creative impulse and how that fits in around a man's everyday life.
Yes, we see van Gogh painting, but we also see him eating, drinking and, bafflingly, mimicking a camel. With the exceptions of implicit familial tangles, the director is not interested in historical explanation; throwaway conversations cover things that someone like Peter Morgan would labour into a full scene of heavy-handed exposition. Pialat's focus is on the compulsion of art and the resignation of life; the urgency of creativity in the face of mortality. By forsaking the specifics, we are given a film about the broader concerns of living.