In his latest effort as a writer/director, Stanley Tucci (Big Night, The Imposters) has taken what is essentially a footnote in the long career of artist and known lothario Alberto Giacometti (played to curmudgeonly perfection by Geoffrey Rush) and turned it into a curious character studio of a beloved painter/sculptor who had no confidence in his talents beyond knowing that he could always do something better if he kept working on it.
Final Portrait is based on the memoir by writer James Lord (portrayed by Armie Hammer, still handsome) who met the Swiss-born Giacometti in Paris circa 1964, when the artist asked Lord to pose for him—for a few hours at most.
What followed were weeks of posing for what would seem to be a simple portrait, with Giacometti taking frequent breaks to drink, fight with his frustrated wife (the great French actress Sylvie Testud), and philander with his current mistress, a high-end prostitute named Caroline (Clémence Poésy), whom he also frequently painted when he wasn’t working with Lord. What emerges from the film is a series of often comical episodes of Giacometti and Lord killing time with long walks, eating, carousing and occasionally actually sitting down to work. But beneath that is an especially vibrant and raw portrayal of just how messy and anguished the artistic process can be for some, even those who, like Giacometti, have made so much money from their work there are literally piles of cash stashed around his studio.
Giacometti promises the portrait will be done in a matter of days, and Lord changes his flight back to New York over and over. Their relationship becomes an exasperating dance that includes watching the artist paint over his detailed work because something unexplainable doesn’t look right to him. Lords gets sucked into the drama of Giacometti’s daily life and begins to get a sense of why people tolerate his eccentricities. Lord becomes quite close with his brother, Diego, who has lived and made a living at his brother’s whim for decades and has decided just to go with the flow, pick up the pieces, and not question the motives. The film can be frustrating at times, only because we’re still in a discovery period of hearing about ridiculous men behaving badly and no one questioning it because they are regarded as too powerful or a “genius.”
Still, Final Portrait is enlightening, amusing, thrilling and sometimes touching, with Rush and Hammer forming the perfect artistic odd couple, butting heads but also forming the perfect symbiotic relationship. I can still hear Rush as Giacometti, throwing up his brush in frustration at his failure to capture whatever it is he’s trying to capture and uttering “Fuuuuuuck,” often signaling the end of yet another portrait session. I’m going to be using that line quite often in future writing endeavors.
The film opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.