by Alex Billington
February 17, 2017
Nothing like watching artists work. Final Portrait is a film directed by Stanley Tucci (of Blind Date, The Impostors, Big Night previously) starring actor Geoffrey Rush playing the famed Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti. If you don’t know who Giacometti is, it’s better to get acquainted with him and his incredible sculpture work before getting into this film. Final Portrait tells the story of, literally, his final portrait as an artist – a painting he did of an American novelist who was visiting Paris, where his studio was, in the 1960s. The film has a small, intimate feel to it exploring the pained life and quirky antics of a great artist, which is becoming increasingly common these days (e.g. Inside Llewyn Davis, Maudie, Mr. Turner, Love & Mercy).
Armie Hammer plays James Lord, an American novelist who has been profiling Giacometti and is already friends with him at the start. Giacometti asks James to sit down for a portrait, and at first he tells him it should only take an afternoon, with his flight home the next day. Of course, since Giacometti is a bit of an eccentric weirdo always smoking and shuffling around, he starts asking for more time and one day turns into one week which turns into three weeks. Even still, he could keep going on and on always starting again, but James learns how to stop Giacometti before he paints over and restarts. Great artists are perfectionists who never really seem fully satisfied with their work, no matter how brilliant it may seem to the rest of us.
Much of the film follows Giacometti as he bumbles around his studio, always with a cigarette in his mouth, surround by his wife (played by Sylvie Testud), brother (played by Tony Shalhoub), and his mistress (played by Clémence Poésy). At night he heads to the local watering hole to down gallons of wine, flirting with French women. James follows him around as well, learning more about his life and what makes him tick. There aren’t any great revelations – it’s more of look at how such a talented artist lived such a bohemian French life, balancing artistic genius with casual Parisian nightlife. Thankfully Geoffrey Rush gives such an outstanding performance, it’s compelling and thoroughly enjoyable to watch him and all his eccentricities.
There is no big introspective final message in the film, and it isn’t so much of a biopic, as it is a story about two friends. We don’t get the chance to learn anything more about Giacometti or his technique, and that’s okay. Final Portrait is indeed about his final portrait and it’s nice slice of life looking at this moment. It’s amusing and entertaining with good humor, fun to watch and interesting to consider (who wouldn’t want to live the free flowin’ life of an artist in Paris?). Best of all, the performances from the entire cast make it all the more delightful to experience. Perhaps by the end you’ll be an even bigger fan of Giacometti, curious to learn even more about him and his work. Or maybe you will wish you owned one (or two) of his sculptures.
Alex’s Berlinale 2017 Rating: 8 out of 10
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