FINAL PORTRAIT (Dir. Stanley Tucci, 2018)
Stanley Tucci’s fifth film as director is a true art film. It is about the excitement of creating art, the frustration that goes into making art, and, most importantly for our purposes here, the huge amount of time it may take to satisfactorily finish working on art.
This is what Swiss painter Alberto Giacometti, played superbly by Geoffrey Rush, goes through in painting a portrait of American art critic James Lord (a dapper, refined Armie Hammer) in his crumbling, rundown studio in 1964 Paris.
At their first sitting, Giacometti tells Lord, “you have the head of a brute; you look like a real thug.” To which Lord replies, “Gee, thanks.” The dialogue between them continues in this vein, as what Giacometti had initially said would take “an afternoon at most,” turns out to take weeks, with Lord having to constantly reschedule his flight back to New York to his growing irritation.
Lord gets particularly concerned when Giacometti decides to undo what he’s painted and paints broad white strokes over portions of what he’s labored for days on. He also gets a bit weirded out when the elder painter tells him he has fantasized about killing women to help himself go to sleep.
Lord also takes note of Giacometti’s relationship with his wife and former muse Annette Arm (Sylvie Testud), who appears to mostly tolerate her husband’s infidelity probably because she has a lover on the side as well. Ah, Paris.
As most of this film takes place in Giacometti’s studio, it often resembles a filmed play. Its meager cast, which includes Clémence Poésy as the artist’s prostitute mistress Caroline, and Tony Shalhoub as his brother Diego, adds to that effect, but there are exterior flourishes that keep it from being too claustrophobic.
Despite a few outbursts by Rush’s Giacometti, Tucci’s adaptation of Lord’s 1965 memoir “A Giacometti Portrait,” is a quiet, little drama which I bet some folks will find as dull as watching paint dry, but I found fascinating. That may be because I have an art school background, and love learning about different artist’s processes.
Rush and Hammer convincingly inhabit the characters of these men whose demeanors are very different but they share a love of art that the film makes feel palpable. Hammer’s Lord knows that however draining it can be to sit for this cantankerous tortured creator, the work is important, and may last longer than either of their personal stories. Especially since, as the title of this film plainly states, this work is the capper to Giacometti’s career (he passed away in 1966).
As FINAL PORTRAIT is an indie film in limited release, it’s a release that can be easily overlooked. It’s well worth seeking out as while its charms, and appeal are certainly subtle, they are very finely mixed. A true art film indeed, and one that finishes well.