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Final Portrait

Apr 30, 2018

Visit a famous sculptor at work. It's enlightening and entertaining.

Final Portrait

Grade: B+

Director:  Stanley Tucci (The Big Night)

Screenplay: Tucci, from James Lord’s A Giacometti Portrait

Cast: Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech), Armie Hammer (Call Me by Your Name)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 30 min

by John DeSando

Although in the ’60’s I knew famous artists could live in hovels, I never imagined the way Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), the famous sculptor/painter, lived. In Final Portrait, his grimy Parisian first-floor apartment is strewn with famous spindly-limbed sculptures amid broken pottery and glass with an easel on which he paints a portrait of his friend, James Lord (Armie Hammer).

I am usually critical of stories about painters because these biopics rarely give insight into the artistic process (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Frida, and Pollock among my favorites, but disappointing that way), concentrating rather on the dynamic personal life.   However, Final Portrait lets us sit with his subject and ingest the cranky chaos that has already bred world-wide fame.

While his wife Annette Arm (Sylvie Testud), is in attendance, the artist carries on at length with a delightful prostitute, Caroline (Clemence Poesy), goes to dives, disrespects money, chain smokes, and generally acts like the Bohemian he is. 

Such seems the stereotype, but writer/director Stanley Tucci deftly adapts Lord’s book, A Giacometti Portrait, to let us experience the disarray of the process that takes weeks. The artist is disappointed multiple times, starts over, yet really believes no portrait is ever finished.

Alberto Giacometti keeps us hoping that another day of Lord’s sitting will produce a result, yet another day comes and goes into weeks. Lord, a writer, is remarkably patient as we all know genius will not be hurried. When it’s over, however, you can bet on its being world-class.

Rush is charming as the disheveled genius, while Hammer is handsome, as always, and subdued in the artist’s presence. I was not bored for a second because I felt like a visitor witnessing the workings of chaotic brilliance, a true friendship, and the essence of Parisian artistic life.

Sit back and enjoy an artist at work. It may seem slow, but it’s not.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com