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Film Review: 'Final Portrait'

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Armie Hammer as James Lord and Geoffrey Rush as Alberto Giacometti in Final Portrait. Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Out in limited release this weekend is Final Portrait, written and directed by Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games). Adapted from A Giacometti Portrait, a memoir by writer and art enthusiast James Lord (portrayed by Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name), the film focuses on a specific snapshot in time, during the year 1964, when Lord sat for a portrait for his friend and renowned artist Alberto Giacometti (portrayed by an unrecognizable Geoffrey Rush, Shakespeare in Love) before departing Paris to head back to the U.S. What the artist initially tells Lord will take hours, an afternoon, at the most, turned into 18 sittings over the course of nearly three weeks.

The bulk of the film takes place in Giacometti’s studio. The space is introduced as Lord looks over the various paintings and sculptures in the room. Like a lot of creatives, the audience will discover Giacometti is self-critical, from the way he reviews his finished pieces and the manner he speaks of his work, and how he repositions a casually seated Lord at the start of their first sitting.

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Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classic.

“I’ll never be able to paint you as I see you,” Giacometti says to Lord during one of their early sittings. The line is delivered matter-of-factly, yet with a slight hint of defeatism.

The friendship between Giacometti and Lord seems, for the most part, easygoing. While Lord is genuinely touched to be asked to sit for the artist, there’s a moment in the film where the friends mirror one another’s distress. Giacometti is outwardly frustrated with the portrait, while Lord keeps his feelings audibly hidden, his face says it all. They both briefly lean forward, with their heads in their respective hands, until the artist collects himself and begins his work once more. Ah, the creative process.

As director, Tucci made sublime choices in how he chose to showcase his actors, Hammer, in particular, as the camera panned over his facial features during the sittings. The subtle flicker of confusion, and later frustration, communicated in Hammer’s tight-lipped, almost sullen, expression was presented with great care.

When the camera is on Rush, it seems to capture not only the actor but the chaos that surrounds the artist. Whether toiling away in his studio or having a blowout with his wife Annette (Sylvie Testud), the way the camera follows the scenes as they unfold conveyed Giacometti’s passion for his work and his state of being.

Final Portrait is an exquisite look at the creative process and the emotional toll it can have on the artist as well as the people they’re closest with, and how their process is experienced through the eyes of a firsthand observer.

 

Final Portrait is now playing in San Francisco.