Final Portrait

Stanley Tucci directs Geoffrey Rush as the philandering painter-sculptor cum tortured genius, Alberto Giacometti in a neat little film about the creative process set in a time before crass mass commercialization or, more precisely, Paris 1964.

Alberto meets American writer and art aficionado, James Lord (Armie Hammer) and invites him to sit for a portrait which will only take a couple of sittings.

Flattered, Lord accepts but soon realizes that Alberto’s process is as disjoined as his daily existence: sharing digs with his brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub) and an open marriage with Annette (Sylvie Testud) and living in the moment, as it were, and chiefly for his muse, the prostitute Caroline (Clémence Poésy). The scenes involving these two fine French actors are the most compelling in the film, illustrating Alberto’s lust for life, utter contempt for money, which he lavishes on Caroline and apportions to Annette only when she complains that she is neglected, as well as the emotional highs and lows and orchestrated chaos of Alberto’s creative routine: rising late, working through the afternoon, dining, drinking and carousing with Caroline (and any other prostitutes if she is unavailable), returning to his studio to work through the night and finally slipping into bed with Annette as dawn breaks.

The two initial sittings turn out to be insufficient as the artist struggles for inspiration. However, while Alberto is candidly diffident about his ability to accomplish anything of lasting artistic merit (that is, the capturing on canvas of what he sees), he affirms that progress is always possible. For his part, James, noticing Alberto’s nonconformist spirit and idiosyncratic approach and sensing that great art might be in the making, reschedules his return flight to New York, first by a few days, then by a week, then again … Weeks roll by and, although it seems to James that progress is being made, Alberto is pessimistic to the extent that several times, without warning, he announces his work to be shit, undoes what he has painted and starts afresh. When James realizes that Alberto’s perfectionism and declining health together mean that the portrait might never be completed but will certainly take more time than he can afford to spend with him, out of frustration he acts, announcing after one sitting that he is perfectly happy with the still inchoate work and must return to NYC immediately. Alberto reluctantly agrees that finally some progress has been made and arrangements are made to ship the work to America. Thereupon, the film abruptly ends as we are informed by James in voice over that the two men never met again and Alberto died soon after their meeting. (Incidentally, the painting sold for $20 million in 1990.)

As an unpretentious portrait of an restless and insecure genius, Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait is a quiet delight, realized in the main by Rush’s assured performance and memorable particularly for Giacometti’s anecdotes about his (more celebrated) contemporaries, Cézanne and Picasso. Highly recommended for the reflective and ascetically-minded.

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