Alberto Giacometti was a famous Swiss sculptor, painter, draughtsman and printer. Born in 1901 at the age of twenty one he moved to Paris to study under an associate of Rodin’s. Giacometti mainly sculpted and in 1962 when he was awarded the grand prize at the Venice Biennale, it won him world wide renown. Giacometti was notorious for reworking his pieces, often distorting the shapes into thin blades. He did the same thing with his paintings, rendering the sitter elongated and odd. He was friends with Picasso and Joan Miro, and numbered Marlene Dietrich among his conquests.
Directed by actor Stanley Tucci, Final Portrait concentrates on an episode in Giacometti’s later life when American writer James Lord agreed to pose for a painting.
In Paris in the mid sixties, Alberto Giacometti lives in an artistic hovel with his long suffering wife, Annette Arm and his brother Diego. Stereotypical American in Paris, James Lord is intrigued by Giacometti’s request and says he will give him an afternoon of his time. Lord quickly realises it could take a lot longer than that, as the artist shouts “Fuck!” every so often at the painting, while going into despairing reveries.
Giacometti’s work is also complicated by the arrival of his vivacious mistress, prostitute Caroline. Lord is drawn into a circle of artistic mischief, as he is brought back again and again to sit for the master.
Tucci gets some precise performances from his actors. Geoffrey Rush plays Giacometti with charming guile and insouciant shabbiness. Despite the fact that he is worth millions, Giacometti refuses to live well, hiding his money under the bed, or anywhere else convenient. He declines to buy his wife a new winter coat. This craziness and pure meanness is conveyed with sweetness by Rush.
Armie Hammer is solid as James Lord, he is slick and suited. He conveys Lord’s confusion and patience well, while being quite urbane and stiff. Sylvie Testud brings a deftness to her role, as Annette Arm, at times happy and light, at other times jealous and gloomy. Clemence Poesy is suitably over the top as the mistress Giacometti can’t live without, while his brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub) shuffles around in the background.
What is clear is that none of the people who satellite around Giacometti will ever leave him, except Lord who cant wait to get away. They are there for the prestige, or because of unconditional love, or because they are being paid.
Final Portrait is a well-made film, which gives the audience a look into an aging artist’s life. It is simply told and nicely acted, concentrating on the key figures in the story. Stanley Tucci also made a documentary “Stanley Tucci on Giacometti” for Sky Arts, where he met with people who knew the artists and visited his former home, now privately owned. It’s also worth checking out.