Final Portrait (2017)

  • Time: 90 min
  • Genre: Biography | Comedy | Drama
  • Director: Stanley Tucci
  • Cast: Armie Hammer, Clémence Poésy, Geoffrey Rush


In 1964, while on a short trip to Paris, the American writer and art-lover James Lord (Armie Hammer) is asked by his friend, the world-renowned artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), to sit for a portrait. The process, Giacometti assures Lord, will take only a few days. Flattered and intrigued, Lord agrees. So begins not only the story of an offbeat friendship, but, seen through the eyes of Lord, an insight into the beauty, frustration, profundity and, at times, downright chaos of the artistic process. Final Portrait is a portrait of a genius, and of a friendship between two men who are utterly different, yet increasingly bonded through a single, ever-evolving act of creativity. It is a film which shines a light on the artistic process itself, by turns exhilarating, exasperating and bewildering, questioning whether the gift of a great artist is a blessing or a curse.

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  • “You have the head of a brute. You look like a real thug,” says Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) to James Lord (Armie Hammer) during their first sitting. At the time, the sixtysomething Giacometti was a renowned artist nearing the end of his life and Lord a twentysomething American novelist and art critic who was a keen admirer of the fabled sculptor and painter’s work. It’s a deeply flattering thing to be asked to sit for a portrait by such a man, so it’s no surprise that Lord, assured that the session will last no longer than an afternoon, agrees to do so before he returns to his life in New York.

    Based on Lord’s own memoir of the event, much of Final Portrait, Stanley Tucci’s fifth directing feature, takes place in Giacometti’s studio in Paris. Filled with his iconic elongated sculptures, paintings, sketches, art supplies, and stashed bundles of cash (Giacometti doesn’t trust banks), it’s a cramped space of grays, whites, and blacks. There’s a small bedroom nearby where the artist spends time with both his wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) and his mistress Caroline (Clémence Poésy), a prostitute who is his muse, nighttime companion, and greatest obsession, as well as a second-floor workshop where his brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub) tinkers about.

    At one point, Diego remarks to Lord that Giacometti can only be happy if he is desperate and uncomfortable in every part of his life. Indeed, as the calm and fairly optimistic Lord begins to realise, Giacometti is consumed with self-doubt and almost blithely dismissive of his works. “What better breeding ground for doubt than success?” Giacometti retorts when Lord wonders why success hasn’t tempered his uncertainties. Giacometti does everything but pull his hair out as he starts, then stops, begins again only to call it a day, muttering all the while that it’s impossible and almost pointless for him to finish the portrait. Meanwhile, Lord keeps delaying and delaying his return flight as what should have been one long afternoon turns into days then weeks.

    The relationship between an artist and his subject has always been an intriguing one, never more so than in Jacques Rivette’s exemplary La Belle Noiseuse, which took a painstaking but thoroughly engrossing look not only at that complicated dynamic but the creative process as well. Though Final Portrait is not necessarily on that level, it is nonetheless a more substantial depiction than those usually seen. One can almost feel and smell the paint as it’s being mixed or the brush as it touches the canvas. Whilst Tucci never truly plumbs the depths of either Giacometti or Lord, the interplay between the two is well-etched by the two leads, Giacometti’s chaotic swirl a sharp contrast to Lord’s unfailingly courteousness. There’s a lovely lightness of being that underpins the proceedings, and one comes away feeling as if one has been in the crazy but delightful company of two very interesting men.

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