‘Final Portrait’: Giacometti Biopic
“This movie is, literally, about watching paint dry – but Tucci and the cast find a world of detail and nuance.” –Moira MacDonald, film critic for the Seattle Times
Depicting two weeks in the artist Alberto Giacometti’s life, ‘Final Portrait’ is a film that at once captures the agonizing process of art and the complicated mind of the artist. Directed by Stanley Tucci, the movie stars Geoffrey Rush as Giacometti himself, and Armie Hammer as writer James Lord. Almost all of the film takes place in the artist’s studio, surrounded by a myriad of paintings and sculptures, each at differing levels of completion. For two weeks before his return to America, Lord poses for a portrait by Giacometti, and in doing so experiences the world Giacometti inhabits. From the struggle of creating art to the impassioned feelings of love and loss, ‘Final Portrait’ captures the daily life of a great artist from the viewpoint of a friend.
Alberto Giacometti was a Swiss-born artist, who was based for much of his working life in Paris. His surrealist pieces included sculpture, painting, print making, and draftsmanship. Often his work focused on the philosophical questions of the human condition, most notably depicted in his iconic tall, slender figure sculptures. Giacometti died in 1966 at the age of 64. His work is included in museums worldwide, and he is highly regarded as one of the most influential and important sculptors of the 20th century. As recently as 2015, his piece titled “L’Homme au doigt (Pointing Man)” sold for $126 million. Four of the top ten most expensive sculptures are pieces by Giacometti.
In ‘Final Portrait’, Geoffrey Rush depicts Giacometti approximately two years before his death, at a time when he was regularly painting but suffering deeply from his self-critical nature. As it shows the pain of making art, it also shows the important figures in Giacometti’s life: his younger brother Diego (played by Tony Shalhoub), his wife Annette (played by Sylvie Testud), and his young mistress (played by Clémence Poésy).
James Lord was an American writer, whose friendships with great artists shaped his career. Spending much of his time in Paris, Lord had strong relationships with Pablo Picasso and Giacometti, leading to biographies of both, including “A Giacometti Portrait”, which inspired ‘Final Portrait’. His charisma and personality are perfectly captured by Hammer, as he finds posing almost as torturous as the painting is for Giacometti.
Though the film is a quiet look into the connection between two people, it is also a glimpse into the process of a great artist. Filled with comical interactions and a beautiful setting, the best moments are the silent hours spent as the two characters face each other with only an easel and layers upon layers of paint between them.
“What’s clear is that Giacometti… is out to capture a truth that most of us can’t begin to see… Watching the movie, you feel you’ve gotten to know who Alberto Giacometti is, and to revel in what it was like when an artist, sitting in a shabby studio, could command the world.” –Owen Gleiberman, film critic for Variety