Geoffrey Rush brings famed artist Alberto Giacometti to life in Final Portrait, directed by Stanley Tucci. Lee and Lawrence review.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Final Portrait is its examination of the many kinds of portraits we can paint, and the meta-levels it can take that train of thought. While famed artist Giacometti paints a skewed, warped image of narrator James Lord, we too are receiving a warped view of the artist himself from Lord’s perspective, and from there we are getting a warped impression of the two from director/writer Stanley Tucci, who cherry picks elements of a near three-week portraiture sitting in which to tell a relatively conventional but overall enjoyable character story.
As we burrow deeper into the mindsets of our main cast, their personal foibles, their affairs and the inevitable but relatively quiet drama that can cause, we have one truly standout aspect to cling to: performance. Geoffrey Rush utterly disappears behind Giacometti, channelling that hardened individuality that one can often find in people on the fringes of notoriety, a quality that makes it easy to believe why Armie Hammer’s Jim would ever go through with this personal hell. The layer of kinship and admiration on display, though potentially onset by Mr. Lord’s mostly concealed homosexuality, moves beyond sexuality to a mutual experience almost anyone can find shadowing those with which they find infinite fascination.
The narrative does occasionally escape the view of the narrator though for extended sequences, something that helps us understand Giacometti more at the cost of our experience through Jim; moments like this would feel better in summary or in blurry imagination. The potential to imagine the world as Jim imagines Giacometti sees it is missed for a swaggering handheld camera and quick editing, which does its job if not at the cost of some missed opportunities.
The story itself has beats familiar in any biographical drama; plenty of humour, mystery, occasional spats of in-fighting and a few glimpses of the grotesque to remind us why we can never relate to these people fully, before settling on a happier, welcoming and bittersweet resolve. Efficient, tried and true and still often gripping thanks to some involving camerawork and, again, those wonderful performances; it all makes for a sturdy and capable outing by Tucci.
Final Portrait follows American author James Lord (Armie Hammer) as he poses for Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), with the former acting as our lens for the latter. Alberto assures James that the painting will only be a few days of modelling, but artists being what they are, it takes considerably longer, offering the (laudably patient) Lord a glimpse into everyday life in the Giacometti household, as well as the mind of Alberto himself.
Despite none (bar one) of the main cast being French, this is undoubtedly a Paris movie; narrow, cobblestone paths, copious imbibing of wine, and a soundtrack that probably doesn’t consist entirely of accordion, but you’d be hard pressed to recall otherwise.
It helps that there are no bad actors in this movie; Tony Shalhoub appears as Alberto’s brother and collaborator Diego, Sylvie Testud as Alberto’s longsuffering wife Annette, and Clémence Poésy as the working harlot with whom he is openly having an affair. It’s a small ensemble, but each pulls their weight without stealing the spotlight; there can be some temptation in more artistic films to engage in what I can only describe as “ACT-ING!” which is all well and good if you’re adapting Shakespeare, or William Shatner, but it serves little good elsewhere.
Final Portrait marks Stanley Tucci’s fifth directorial entry, and while Tucci’s camerawork is competent, there is little to write home about. Some special mention does need to be made for the modelling scenes however; The camera zooms right up on Armie Hammer as Alberto paints, hugging the contours of his face, and leaving nothing to imagination. It’s almost enough to texture map his face, or indeed, paint a picture. You’ll hear it described as a drama, a comedy, and a biopic; and in a broad sense these labels are true. There are subdued laughs, there is subdued tension. However, it rings truer as a Slice-of-Life. Inspired by real lives, but slice-of-life nonetheless.
If this so far sounds like a film too busy wallowing in its own art to stoop to entertaining its audience, be at ease. The first few minutes of Giacometti’s introduction are worrying; quiet lingering shots of him shuffling around his squalid studio, tinkering with various projects and mumbling to himself; but as he and Lord sit themselves down to work, the film cracks a smile and the relief is palpable. I can’t pretend to know what art connoisseurs will think, perhaps it’s too approachable. For mainstream purposes, though, this is a light-hearted but grounded insight on an artist, his art, and the creative process.
In any case, have a beret ready.