Final Portrait

 

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Geoffrey Rush is Alberto Giacometti in this picture about the artist.

 
Final Portrait

Geoffrey Rush: artist's block

 

Distinctive enough to be interesting but not effective enough to be really successful, Final Portrait is a film by the actor Stanley Tucci in his rather less familiar role of writer/director. It clearly stems from his admiration for the famous Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti and, while he could have opted for a more conventional biopic based on his whole life, he has chosen instead to treat as his source material the book A Giacometti Portrait by the late James Lord. That means that, although Giacometti's greatest fame was as a sculptor, this film, as its title suggests, concentrates on the comparatively short period in 1964 when Lord's portrait was being painted by Giacometti in Paris, the work which proved to be his last as a portrait artist.

 

This approach means that Tucci's film is itself more of a portrait of the artist than a biopic. Instead of anything resembling a plot, Final Portrait studies Giacometti's way of working showing him as a perfectionist ready to exhaust his sitters and a man who, despite his fame, was full of self-doubt. The questioning of his own talent went hand in hand with his view that a portrait was never ever truly finished and that he was attempting the impossible. Quite possibly Tucci saw this as a view of an artist's insecurity that went well beyond this particular example of it. Nevertheless, he sets up a balancing act between Giacometti as an eccentric given to caustic comment and humour and Lord as the ordinary man who is a foil to him. Geoffrey Rush, who plays Giacometti and resembles him in appearance, relishes the outlandish banter (the artist tells his sitter first that he has the face of a brute and later switches that to the face of a delinquent) while also capturing the inner dedication to art, but Armie Hammer fares less well with Lord seeming a mere cypher. Similarly the artist's long-suffering wife (Sylvie Testud) and his prostitute-mistress Caroline (Clémence Poésy) are drawn with insufficient detail to carry real weight.

 

Perhaps the worst fault is that Giacometti's often unpleasant side comes across so strongly at times that the audience is distanced by it. The best thing here is the observation of the artist's working methods which brings to mind Clouzot's unforgettable 1956 film The Picasso Mystery which, despite its title, was a documentary illustrating the procedures that saw a Picasso painting growing and changing. But once you add actors, and in this case a highly stylised subdued colour palette for all the scenes in the studio, you feel the absence of the wider picture and of a persuasive focus that recognises Giacometti's flaws but offsets them meaningfully by celebrating his talent.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clémence Poésy, Tony Shalhoub, Sylvie Testud, James Faulkner, Kerry Shale, Annabel Mullion.

 

Dir Stanley Tucci, Pro Gail Egan, Nik Bower and Ilann Girard, Screenplay Stanley Tucci, based on A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord, Ph Danny Cohen, Pro Des James Merifield, Ed Camilla Toniolo, Music Evan Lurie, Costumes Liza Bracey.

 

Riverstone Pictures/HanWay Films/Potboiler/Olive Productions-Vertigo Films.
88 mins. UK/USA/France. 2016. Rel: 18 August 2017. Cert. 15.