Julian Schnabel has channeled his inner Van Gogh, putting himself in the troubled artist’s shoes for a new film he directed. The artist also hopes to rehabilitate Paul Gauguin‘s film reputation for being an “asshole” in At Eternity’s Gate, which received its premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Monday.

“It was a lot of fun to speak through Van Gogh,” Schnabel said at a press conference in Venice, revealing that he has written some of the dialogue spoken by the tortured artist, who is played by Willem Dafoe. The performance is already being talked about as Oscar-worthy.

Among the dialogue penned by Schnabel are the existential lines in a scene in which a doctor asks Van Gogh, “Why do you paint?” to which Van Gogh (Dafoe) replies, “To stop thinking.” The artist-filmmaker says that when he paints, he himself stops thinking and “I think that could have been true for [Van Gogh], too.”

The inspiration for the film came to Schnabel and his friend, the French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, when they visited the the Musée d’Orsay’s exhibition “Van Gogh / Artaud: The Man Suicided by Society” in 2014. The Paris exhibition sparked an idea to make a film about the Dutch painter’s demise—was it a suicide or murder? “We started to have conversations around what could have happened,” Schnabel explained. Read more