Aida Vucic | 28/07/2017
Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait paints an enchanting picture of Alberto Giacometti.
Giacometti, played by Geoffrey Rush, is the eccentric, manic depressive swiss artist, whose invitation to sit is both a caress of the ego, as well as torturous labour, for the subject. His latest subject is the American novelist, and a devoted admirer of Giacometti, James Lord (Armie Hammer), who is flattered to be Giacometti’s latest subject. Unbeknownst to Lord, what was anticipated to be a sitting for no more than a few hours would see him continually delaying his return home as the days turn into weeks.
Giacometti repeatedly professes his disdain for his work, with a flurry of F words conveying his perpetual agony about his work. It’s clear he requires more time to complete the painting, and with little effort he manages to persuade his subject to return each day to his quaint studio. It’s during these sessions that the pair develop their bond, the nature of these meetings allowing the artist and his subject to be vulnerable, unveiling the characters’ personality and celebrating their idiosyncrasies. Although married to Annette (Sylvie Testud), Giacometti is overtly fixated on Caroline (Clémence Poesy), a prostitute who demands his full attention. His brother Diego (Tony Shalho) is Giacometti’s only unbiased voice, happy to stand in his brother’s shadow without any contempt for his brother’s success.
A step forward is met with two steps back, the painting is repeatedly restarted, the frustration becoming unbearable for the subject. Cautious not to offend, Lord continues this endless loop until the artist is almost satisfied.
It’s a story that transpires over the course of a few weeks, it’s simple and subtle. There’s no exposition, just the gentle reminder of the days elapsing. Tucci acknowledges the audience’s ability to comprehend information without needing it to be met with an explanation or alternatively with unnecessarily long screen time. Little details like sexuality, relationship ties and history are dealt out organically, as functions of the scene, rather than as impetus for it. Tucci ensures that the story is maintained within the finite time, never losing the attention of the audience where other films of similar topic may have.
Cinematographer Danny Cohen also adds a vivaciousness to this story, his lens operating in short focal lengths to give us a glimpse into the eye for detail of Giacometti - focusing now on the curve of the left of nose, now on the arc of the cheek, now on the cut of the jaw bone. It’s an intriguing way to capture the artist’s eye, and while much of the palette of this Paris-set drama is quite grey, the footage comes alive in these intimate studio moments.
Of course the films greatest strength is it’s casting. Rush’s performance is captivating, looking every part as dishevelled as we’d expect, even the movements of his fingers sculpting the clay are precise, emulating that of true artists. His subject (Hammer), whilst not nearly as commanding of our attention as his counterpart, displays strength and fortitude. While his sheer size is intimidating, it is his stoic posing, masking his true underlying frustrations, that truly displays the mammoth energy required to outlast Giacometti’s wild ride. Unfortunately, when put up against the herculean performance of Rush, his underplayed role seems unformed. Indeed, much of this picture feels unformed, with the ending coming quite rapidly. While it’s not unenjoyable, it does reveal the tremendously linear and simplistic plot. Final Portrait is fun, relatively upbeat, and features a great performance, but it doesn’t say much in it’s short runtime, and doesn’t deliver the final blow needed to expand this into a must see story.
Tucci seems to have taken the cue from Giacometti himself, in that a portrait can never be finished. Final Portrait is simplistic and short, but Rush elevates this otherwise drab drama to something enjoyable, fascinating and indescribably intriguing. It’s a trifle, but an enjoyable one.