Final Portrait review: rich detail from the life of Giacometti

Stanley Tucci’s study of the Swiss artist is a rhapsody to bohemian Paris in the 1960s

Sitting pretty: Armie Hammer as the American writer James Lord and Geoffrey Rush as the Swiss painter Alberto Giacometti

Film Title: Final Portrait

Director: Stanley Tucci

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clémence Poésy, Tony Shalhoub, James Faulkner, Sylvie Testud

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 90 min

Fri, Aug 18, 2017, 06:00

   

It is no criticism of Stanley Tucci’s narrowed study of Alberto Giacometti to say that from the outset we have a good idea how the great artist will behave. He behaves as most great artists do in such films. He prioritises work over personal relationships. He carries on affairs with sex workers. He dresses like a tramp. You know the sort of thing.

Within that familiar frame, Final Portrait creates a rich, attractive miniature. Tucci focuses on one incident in the later stages of the Swiss genius’s life. Now financially secure – wads of notes are stuffed beneath handy pieces of furniture – Alberto (Geoffrey Rush) spends his days working in a studio at the end of a grimy French cul-de-sac. The American writer James Lord (Armie Hammer) has commissioned Giacometti to paint his portrait. The sitting should take a few days. Lord is then pressed to stay a week. Giacometti whites out the portrait’s face and passive-aggressively urges Lord to stay just a bit longer. Flights are constantly cancelled and rebooked. Lord’s admirable patience is tested.

Nouvelle Vague

Danny Cohen shoots early 1963 Paris – the year of high Nouvelle Vague – as a grey confusion that reflects the monochrome shades of Giacometti’s portraits. Sylvie Testud and Clémence Poésy add spice as the women in the artist’s life. But the film is really about the contrast between the two men at its centre. Hair like an explosion in a wire-wool factory, clothes a mess of folds, Rush has great fun teasing cliches of Bohemianism. Hammer’s subtly comic performance – “But you’re Swiss!” he exclaims when Giacometti says he doesn’t trust banks – helps create another avatar of the suave American man at his most suited and chiselled. Armie makes Rock Hudson seem like Jerry Garcia.