Based on his biography of Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti, Final Portrait follows writer James Lord’s account of sitting for the temperamental artist in 1964. What was meant to be a quick sketch ended up stretching to 18 fractious days that produced one of Giacometti’s most famous oil paintings. Indeed, the film plays heavily on the difficulties of putting a deadline on something as subjective and nebulous as art, driving the plot and adding moments of painstaking frustration as well as dry humour.
Giacometti provides Geoffrey Rush with a show-stopping character, all grump and insecurity one moment and flamboyance and vivacity another. He does an excellent job, and it’s unlike anything he has done before, although one small gripe would be the rather Antipodean vowels slipping through his French grumbling.
The supporting cast shine, with Sylvie Testud and Tony Shalhoub excellent as Giacometti’s long-suffering wife Annette and brother Diego: both the most sympathetic and charming of characters. Clémence Poésy is effective too as prostitute Caroline, but a little more jarring as a character, and Armie Hammer continues to surprise with more unexpected film choices – and seems all the better for it.
Final Portrait is heady with its period Frenchness – all cigarettes, trench coats and snappy suits, laying down a beautiful contrast with Giacometti’s Gallic dishevelment. Danny Cohen’s excellent cinematography revels in the messiness of art, getting down and dirty with oils oozing onto the palette, thumbs digging into clay and extreme closeups of Hammer’s face.
Final Portrait is a slow burn and slow study, slightly inaccessible to those uninitiated with Giacometti at first, but rewarding if stuck with as the characters take hold. Writer-director Stanley Tucci’s passion for the project is palpable, but its specific subject endears it to more of a niche audience.
CAST: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Sylvie Testud, Clémence Poésy, Tony Shalhoub
DIRECTOR: Stanley Tucci
WRITER: Stanley Tucci
SYNOPSIS: American writer James Lord agrees to sit for a quick sketch – just an afternoon’s work – for his acquaintance, the painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti. As the work drags out, however, Lord is privy not only to the frustrations and inner misgivings of art and the artist, but also Giacometti’s personal life.