Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti gets the biopic treatment in actor Stanley Tucci’s latest directorial outing, Final Portrait. It’s typically impish for a Tucci film, especially considering the artist himself is embodied by Geoffrey Rush in top flight.
As the title suggests, it’s not a film that spans the life of the artist, but focuses on the creation of his final painting. We see everything from that painting’s subject, a young American writer and art critic James Lord (Armie Hammer). Lord would later write the book that the film is based on, as well as a more traditional biography on Giacometti.
Lord thought that he would be sitting for his friend Giacometti for a few hours, he didn’t realise that the artist had a problem finishing his works. Hours turned into days that turned into weeks. Just when Lord would think the portrait was almost done, Giacometti would paint over the whole thing and start again.
Anyone who’s seen any of the films that actor Stanley Tucci has directed, such as Big Night or The Imposters, will know that humour is never far away. So while this is ostensibly a study of the artistic process and this particular artist’s insecurities, self doubt and his very nature of never being satisfied with what he’s produced, it’s quite often played for laughs.
With this in mind, Rush is the perfect choice for the role, and while he does masticate the scenery a fair bit, it’s entirely warranted given the larger than life character he’s playing. In contrast, Hammer’s Lord is buttoned up in more ways than one. Putting on the same suit and tie every day for weeks on end, the actor and the character he’s playing, both have to make do with just sitting still in a chair and observing the artist at work.
This structure unfortunately means there is a fair amount of repetition involved. Once you’ve learnt that Giacometti works in chaos, is hopeless with money, berates his wife unendingly (a sympathetically played Sylvie Testud) and loves wine and a certain prostitute (a deliberately annoying Clémence Poésy), it reaches a point where we feel we’re just going around in circles and not learning anything new.
Ultimately this feels like a minor work – whimsical and absorbing to a point but also monotonous. We come away feeling like we’ve spent too much time with Giacometti, and while we see it all through Lord’s eyes, we’ve learnt almost nothing about him.
Final Portrait is currently in national release
Richard Leathem @dickiegee