An exclusive Peggy Siegal party for Julian Schnabel‘s Vincent Van Gogh film, At Eternity’s Gate (CBS Films, 11.16), happened today in the Hollywood hills.

The main honorees were director Julian Schnabel and the great Willem Dafoe, whose performance as the tortured and gifted Vincent Van Gogh is surely his finest since inhabiting Jesus of Nazareth 30 years ago in Martin Scorsese‘s The Last Temptation of Christ (’88). At the very least Dafoe (who was well on his way to a Best Supporting Actor win last year until Sam Rockwell stormed the Bastille) has to be Best Actor nominated…c’mon! This is great, primal, world-class channelling. Ask anyone.

(l. to r.) At Eternity’s Gate star and like Best Actor niminee Willem Dafoe, Al Pacino, director Julian Schnabel and co-screenwriter and co-editor Louise Kugelberg.

Tatyana Antropova, Guillermo del Toro.

Al Pacino, who arrived somewhat late.

San Fernando Valley view from the patio.

The fraternal, warm-hearted Guillermo del Toro conducted a q & a with Schnabel, Dafoe and co-screenwriter and co-editor Louise Kugelberg. Al Pacino (The Irishman) and Benicio del Toro were also in attendance.

Hollywood Elsewhere correspondent Tatyana Antropova, a longtime Van Gogh admirer who read Irving Stone‘s “Lust for Life” in her late teens, attended on my behalf.

From “Van Gogh Himself Would Approve,” posted by yours truly on 10.12.18:

At Eternity’s Gate delivers an intimate channelling of the visions and torment that surged within this angst-ridden impressionist, and the effect is fairly on-target. The film is more into communion than visions — intuitions, intimacy, revelations.

As Schnabel said during the post-screening press conference, “Rather than a movie about Van Gogh, I wanted to make a film in which you are Van Gogh.”

Dafoe seems to be so open to the ache of this poor suffering man, and immersing himself so completely in his emotional, artistic and spiritual struggles, that (I’ve said this a few times over the years) he really doesn’t seem to be performing or pretending. I wish I could think of some other way to say this, but whatever.

The interesting part is that Dafoe, now 61, is 24 years older than Van Gogh was when he died at 37, and yet this isn’t a problem. You don’t even think of it. Poor Vincent was so bothered and self-flagellating that Dafoe looking somewhat older than a guy in his mid 30s…well, of course.

The other thing is a scene in which Van Gogh, temporarily incarcerated in a mental asylum, has a testy conversation with a doubting priest (Mads Mikkelsen). The priest is softly contemptuous, saying in so many words that he thinks Van Gogh’s paintings simply aren’t very good, and that he’s almost certainly deluding himself by thinking that God meant him to pick up a brush.

Van Gogh responds just as softly that he might be painting for people who haven’t been born yet (or words to that effect). The instant Dafoe said this some guy sitting behind me went “uhm-huh” and I muttered the same thing to myself — “That’s right…that’s exactly what he’s doing.”

Schnabel: “This is a film about painting and a painter and their relationship to infinity. It is told by a painter. It contains what I felt were essential moments in his life. This is not the official history — it’s my version. One that I hope could make you closer to him.”