Director: Stanley Tucci
Screenwriter: Stanley Tucci
Runtime: 90 mins.
Australian Release Date: 5 October 2017
Previewed at: Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 12 September 2017.
Set in Paris in 1964 (but actually filmed on a set in the UK’s Twickenham Studios, using locations around London to create the Parisian atmosphere), Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait is an acute observation of the bond between an artist and an art lover and it’s a joy to observe. In the film, which Tucci also scripted, the actor/director has perceptively shone a light on the artistic process and succeeded in posing the question: Is being a great artist a gift or a curse?
The film depicts the occasion when Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) invited his friend, the American writer James Lord who’s in Paris on business, to sit for a portrait. Assuring him it will only take a short time, we watch as the process turns from days into weeks because the artist regularly destroys his efforts, saying “it’s shit!” before being inspired to pick up his brushes and continue afresh. It quickly becomes evident that Giacometti has trouble with his on-going self-criticism and lack of self-worth. This struggle is made even clearer by the various works-in-progress that lie around his studio, half finished sculptures waiting to be transformed as the Muse takes him. Meanwhile his brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub) spends his time making armatures and stretching canvases and generally supporting and encouraging his gifted sibling, providing an air of calm over the often fractious mood that pervades the studio. Giacometti’s wife, the long-suffering Annette Arm (Sylvie Testud), is at the mercy of his capriciousness and infidelity, played out publicly with Caroline (Clemence Poésy), the artist’s long-term lover, who provides light-hearted, coquettish relief.
Danny Cohen’s hand-held camera adds to the claustrophobic look of the interior of the meticulously recreated painter/sculptor’s studio, as Tucci makes his audience silent observers of the creative process and privy to the maturing friendship between the artist and his subject. Giacometti tells Lord, “You look like a thug” and regularly spews forth a torrent of expletives as he becomes increasingly frustrated with the work. It’s as if he’s trying to break through the canvas, looking for a deeper truth in his sitter but unable to match his creation with the vision in his mind’s eye, like an author wrestling with writer’s block.
Final Portrait is as close as many of us will get to entering the space of a genius at work and witnessing the beauty and chaos of the artistic process. Rush is Oscar-worthy, delivering a masterful performance as the shambolic Giacometti, almost reprising his off-kilter persona as the creative genius of Shine but reining in his more histrionic tendencies. He is adeptly supported by the rest of the cast: Hammer is particularly convincing as the gay aesthete curious about the complex evolution of his portrait and willing to see it through to the end… almost; Shalhoub is perfectly cast as the tolerant overseer of the constant turmoil (a part Tucci turned down, preferring to stay behind the scenes); and the French actresses Testud and Poésy bring natural authenticity to their roles. Final Portrait will transport you into a world brimming with talent while exuding an aura of wicked delight.