Directed by Stanley Tucci
With Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer and Clémence Poésy
Paris, 1964. After interviewing painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) for several times, journalist James Lord (Armie Hammer) becomes his friend and is invited to pose for a portrait. What should take only a few days becomes a delay of several weeks in Lord’s return to New York. Giacometti is constantly stuck between his dissatisfaction with the work and the notion that a portrait can’t ever really be finished. Anything good that they achieve is always the starting point for greatness but they’ll never have time to get there.
Final Portrait joins two actors that really understand the art of good storytelling – Stanley Tucci behind the camera and Geoffrey Rush as the leading man. They are probably also familiar with creative angst and this movie is about an achieved artist’s process. Instead of leaning on success, he finds it to be the perfect research field to question the quality and relevance of his work. He finds comfort in discomfort and fulfillment in dissatisfaction.
Geoffrey Rush is most likely the actor who has played more real life characters on screen during the past decade. From pianist David Helfgott in Shine (for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor) to Marquis de Sade in Quills, Peter Sellers, Leon Trotsky (a small role in Frida) and Philip Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love, Rush always seems to know the right amount of whimsical to put in. Even in characters like Marquis de Sade and Helfgott that could easily be portrayed in a bigger than life eccentric way, there is always something very tangible that connects them to reality and humanity.
The same is true for his performance as Alberto Giacometti. Even the rage fits thrown at the canvas are done in a hush tone because they come more from frustration than ego. Giacometti is not a diva but a man at the final stage of his life being confronted with his own limitations in showing the world his vision. “When I was young, I thought I could do everything. When I grew up, I realized I couldn’t do nothing”, he says at some point.
Behind the camera we find Stanley Tucci, eternal supporting actor with a quality charming presence that usually brings a smiling sense of security to any film. From Julie & Julia to Spolitght, The Hunger Games or The Devil Wears Prada, Tucci has worked with the best. As a director, he brings to Final Portrait the experience of someone that has been telling stories for a long time. The film doesn’t have any genius or sparks but it’s directed with elegance and care. He gives center stage to whom it should be given: the actors and the set of the atelier, a kind of third silent character that shares the screen with Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer.
If we want to find a weaker spot to Final Portrait, maybe it’s Clémence Poésy’s character. Playing a prostitute who is Giacometti’s lover, she takes the lightness of french charm a bit too far and into the territory of being silly. Regardless, the supporting characters – including the wife and brother – are there to describe Giacometti’s daily life and to give context to his actions. He is not the best of human beings but not the worst either. The best thing about Rush’s performance and the movie itself is precisely not being afraid of normalcy when addressing someone like Giacometti. It would be easy to give in to exaggeration because that is what is expected of artists. If Final Portrait sins in some way is by being too moderate. Even so, that might be a more interesting way than hysteria.
For those interested in seeing Giacometti’s work from another perspective, there is an exhibition at the French delegation of Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian at the end of 2018 (from the 3rd to the 16th of December). In this showing, Portuguese sculptor Rui Chafes will place his work on a dialogue with pieces by the Suisse artist.