Documenting the creative process of Alberto Giacometti painting his model, Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait offers a tantalising glimpse inside the artist’s studio.
Still Lifeby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Returning behind the camera for the fifth time, Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait could have been a lot of things. Ostensibly revealing the relationship between artist and model, after New York based art critic James Lord (Armie Hammer) is invited to model by Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) in what turns out to be his last portrait. Initially slated in for a couple of hours, an afternoon at most, the sitting lasts for several weeks, with Giacometti warning from the get-go of the impossibility of ever truly finishing a portrait, a victim to his creativity as he daubs and swabs before letting out a loud expletive and deciding to restart the portrait with a big splodge of grey.
Despite mention of Madame Cézanne’s experience of feeling like an apple sitting for her husband, there’s little of the relationship between painter and sitter beyond the occasional fidget or stretch. Instead, Final Portrait reaches for the metaphysical, painting its scenario as life’s waiting room – with Jim’s flight home repeatedly rebooked, his fate hanging in the balance at the mercy of a mercurial creator with little hope of escape. Caught somewhere between Pandora and Sisyphus. Rather than an interview between Adam and God though, there’s little interest between the two men in each other beyond the occasional graveyard walk, wine-fuelled lunch or recreational smoke.
There are repeated close-ups on Armie Hammer’s chiselled countenance, but it’s unclear beyond his American athleticism why Giacometti chose him. Likewise, Lords’ interest seems purely academic, witness (or victim) to Giacometti’s technique before he decides to start plotting his exit. In fact, Tucci’s film places Giacometti firmly at the centre – the artistic subject surveying his subjects; wife, mistress and male muse. But nor does Jim attempt to assert his status as subject, and it’s a lack of conflict that would have made of A Final Portrait a beautiful short film.
At feature length, it’s a stretch. Lightly sketched and seemingly unfinished. And despite an exterior car sequence that reaches for the youthful freshness of A Bout De Souffle, filmed on location in studios and in London, Tucci’s Paris feels airless and artificial. Geoffrey Rush turns in a pleasingly volatile turn as the Swiss-Italian artist, while Armie Hammer, underserved by Tucci’s script, becomes a lumpen bystander and Clémence Poésy appears to be left to her own devices as well spoken prostitute Caroline. Lacking gravitas and gusto, Tucci’s Final Portrait is disappointingly lightweight but nevertheless a textural pleasure in black, white and ochre.
Final Portrait is now showing at the 67th Berlin Film Festival