Charming, funny, and touching, “Final Portrait” is itself a beautifully rendered portrait of a strange but endearing friendship.
Its beating heart is a standout performance from Geoffrey Rush, who leads a talented ensemble in bringing to life a fascinating glimpse into a single, enduring moment in the often chaotic life of a consummate artist.
Though there are moments the film itself ventures close to being as trying as its subject, those moments are forgivable when taken with the whole; in fact, it’s arguable those moments are an intended effect, considering what the film’s viewpoint character endures throughout the story.
What’s it about?
Based on a memoir by real-life American author James Lord, “Final Portrait” takes place in Paris in 1964.
When Lord (Armie Hammer) receives a request from his good friend, renowned artist Alberto Giacometti (Rush) that he sit for a portrait, he enthusiastically agrees. Though he’s due back in New York in a few days, Lord cannot imagine refusing the honor, and Giacometti assures him the process will only take “a few hours.”
The hours, of course, stretch into days, as Lord bears witness to Giacometti’s unique creative process, which often involves loud cursing and bemoaning the futility of the work. The days also grant Lord a glimpse into the lives of those in Giacometti’s orbit – his long-suffering wife Annette (Sylvie Testud), his more even-keeled brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub), and the Parisian prostitute who had become his muse and his obsession, Caroline (Clémence Poésy).
As much as he enjoys keeping company with the brilliant but neurotic artist, Lord’s patience with the process thins as more and more sitting sessions pass. He has to get home, but how do you tell a genius who insists artwork is never truly finished that his time is up and he has to stop, especially when you’re his subject?
Rush at his best
Written and directed by Stanley Tucci, “Final Portrait” proves to be a perfect vehicle for the talents of Rush, who throughout his career has disappeared into unforgettable characters on film.
Rush’s Giacometti should make audiences understand immediately why people seemed to be drawn to the man. Giacometti, in Lord’s eyes, was an extremely complicated man – entirely uninterested in mundane everyday concerns such as money and material trappings, careless and frumpy in his manner of dress and expression, driven and obsessive about the many works that cluttered his studio, all unfinished in his mind, all failures of one shape or another.
Rush delivers all that complexity, all that frustration and determination to be “perfectly dissatisfied,” as Diego observes in the film, with charm and a frumpy sort of grace. Though he drives just about everyone around him crazy with his whims, his mood swings and his inconsistencies, he’s impossible to hate – he’s simply “Alberto,” and Rush’s compelling work makes that description resonate.
The cast of “Final Portrait” complements Rush’s exceptional work with fine performances of their own.
Hammer doesn’t get as much to do here as he did in “Call Me By Your Name,” but he still brings affability and wry humor to Lord, who is Giacometti’s counterpoint in every way. The film’s French actresses, meanwhile – Testud and Poésy – each bring unique and formidable energy to their scenes with Rush, and Shalhoub serves as a solid anchor of sorts amidst the storms of emotion caused by Giacometti and his loves.
Overall, it’s a fine effort that should delight and entertain fans of smaller cinema, of character studies and period films concerned with art, its creation and its creators. It may try your patience, just as Lord’s patience is tried throughout the entire story, but if Tucci intended that effect so audiences could somehow feel what Lord did during those hours and days, then without a doubt he’s successful.
Starring Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Tony Shalhoub, Sylvie Testud, Clémence Poésy. Directed by Stanley Tucci.
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated R for language, some sexual references and nudity.