Final Portrait

Stanley Tucci writes and directs this agreeable miniature study of Alberto Giacometti and a young American writer, James Lord, who posed for the sculptor in his last days. 

It’s a minor disappointment Tucci doesn’t appear in the film, though the man who played his brother in Tucci’s 1996 directing debut Big Night, Tony Shalhoub, is there, playing Giacometti’s faithful brother Diego. 

Giacometti himself is played by Geoffrey Rush, who is one of the last great film hams around and perfect for adding actorly flamboyance to the role of the eccentric artist. He scratches away at his canvas, yelling out a theatrical “Faaahkhh” every now and then, smoking up a storm, and staring back at his whittled sculptures, challenged by his own work, like a man looking in a mirror and asking Who you lookin’ at? or even You talkin’ to me?

As the rather helpless Lord, Armie Hamer is stoic and funny, bringing humour to a largely thankless reactive role which involves shrugging helplessly at Giacometti’s wanton ways with cash and pretending to be charmed by a prostitute named Caroline (an irritating Clemence Poesy).

But there’s much to admire, particularly in the hues of Danny Cohen’s camera work which captures the dusty grey artistry of the Paris studio where most of the (in)action takes place. 

It’s a glossy study compared to the haunting power of Giacometti’s dwindled human forms but in Rush’s jittery impatience you get a real sense of artistic struggle, as well as an intellectual engagement with depicting the soul of mankind in an absurdist world, which isn’t easy to do on screen without making people leave the room.

Maybe there should have been more of this – if you don’t know the artist’s work, this film doesn’t take you into its dark heart – but that would negate the elegant lightness of Tucci’s approach. If Tucci couldn’t get the role for himself, it’s very much a character actor’s direction: always keen for a bit of mugging, a scene in a cafe, wine-drinking, ciggy histrionics, a twitch here, a tic there, a smattering of French 60s pop. But as such, it’s never less than enjoyable.

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