In 1952, American author James Lord first met Alberto Giacometti, by then a famous artist, at Cafe Deux Magots in Paris. They became friends and years later in 1964, Giacometti asked Lord to sit for a portrait. What was supposed to be a few short hours in an afternoon, becomes, for Lord, an odyssey of over 18 sittings for what is eventually Giacometti's "Final Portrait".
Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), sculptor, painter, draughtsman and print maker, has just left his exhibition opening in Paris when he encounters James Lord (Armie Hammer). Realizing he has not yet asked Lord to pose for a portrait, Giacometti invites Lord to his studio. Upon arrival, the ever-dapper Lord discovers the always-disheveled Giacometti working in a dilapidated, too-crowded space which he shares with his wife, Annette Arm (Sylvie Testud) and his brother, Diego (Tony Shalhoub).
Though Lord is scheduled to return to New York City in a few days, Giacometti reassures Lord that the process will be quick. But once Giacometti begins painting, his frustration with his abilities sidetracks his efforts, and what should have taken a relatively short time turns into a major commitment by Lord to see this project through.
"Final Portrait" is a work of love for writer/director Stanley Tucci. Based on James Lord's own book "A Giacometti Portrait", which Tucci considers "one of the best books ever written about the creative process", Tucci takes his time and a great deal of effort to bring this lovely and memorable story to the big screen. "Final Portrait" will not appeal to the masses, certainly, but it is exactly the kind of dialogue-driven movie so appreciated by David and me.
Rush is exquisite portraying the egocentric Giacometti. Most artists are self-absorbed, and Giacometti was masterrful when it came to his own wants and needs. His open affair with Caroline, played so beautifully by Clémence Poésy, caused poor Annette much heartbreak. And yet, Giacometti's solution was to push Annette into her own liaison with Isaku Yanaihara (Takatsuna Mukai), a Japanese friend who also modeled for him.
Lord was a homosexual, and though Hammer obviously doesn't develop the same relationship with Rush as he did with Timothée Chalamet in "Call Me By Your Name", his ability to form such deep friendships on screen with whomever he's opposite is strikingly apparent. Rush and Hammer truly look completely comfortable with one another, and their chemistry is paramount to the success of "Final Portrait". And succeed they do.
Gail Egan, who produced "Final Portrait" for Potboiler Productions, had wanted Tucci to portray Diego. I admire Tucci greatly as an actor, but I am thrilled he insisted on Shalhoub instead, because he is perfect. Wirth his hair shaved very short and colored all gray, his change in appearance adds another dimension to this minor, but pivotal role.
If you are at all inclined to see films of this genre, I cannot recommend "Final Portrait" enough. It is a small but significant masterpiece in the over-populated landscape of giant, noisy productions.
Opinion: See It Now!
Do-it-all star Stanley Tucci first conceived of his latest directorial effort 10 years ago. "Final Portrait" focuses on one small episode in the life of Italian artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), who died in 1966 at the age of sixty-five. The movie features the artist's relationship with his wealthy, and much younger American friend and author, James Lord (Armie Hammer), who died in 2009 at the age of eighty-seven.
As Jeanne's synopsis so elegantly lays out, Lord's last visit to Giacometti resulted in the artist painting a portrait of Lord over a period of some 18 days when it was supposed to be finished in one afternoon. Canceling flight after flight back to the U.S. to accommodate his friend, Lord finally says enough is enough, he can't stay in Paris any longer. So Giacometti reluctantly agrees that what he has painted to this point will have to do, although his lifelong philosophy is that no work of art can ever really be completed.
Rush, looking disheveled for the entire film, plays the chain-smoking Giacometti so compellingly we feel we know the man within a few minutes of the movie's opening. Giacometti's art makes him a lot of money, but he eschews banks, so he assigns the taller Lord the task of hiding a huge wad of cash in his shabby studio. The artist cheats openly on his wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud) with a prostitute named Caroline (Clémence Poésy), even buying her an expensive convertible. His brother and right-hand man is Diego (a virtually unrecognizable Tony Shalhoub), who tries to keep the studio organized, though he is an artist in his own right.
"Final Portrait" is without question not a film for everyone. But it is a unique character study that will have serious moviegoers thinking about the friendship they have witnessed between these two very different men. Lord is refined and handsome, Giacometti is abrasive and annoying, yet somehow likeable. When Giacometti "undoes" Lord's portrait the first time, it comes as a bit of a shock to the viewer. After all, it looked almost finished, and finally Lord could return home.
Rush's performance calls to mind his Oscar-winning turn in "Shine" (1996) where he played a crazed pianist. Hammer, meanwhile, follows his well-received role as an openly gay man in the Oscar-nominated "Call Me By Your Name" with that of Lord in "Final Portrait". There is only a hint that he is gay here. In real life, James Lord, as a young man, came out as a homosexual to his father, who then sent him to a psychiatrist.
As "Final Portrait" comes to a close, know that the portrait that is the "finished" product of this last meeting between Giacometti and Lord sold for more than $20 million 24 years after the artist's death.
Opinion: Wait for DVD