Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Stanley Tucci
Screenwriter: Stanley Tucci
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Tony Shalhoub, Sylvie Testud, Clémence Poésy
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 2/26/18
Opens: March 23, 2018
If you visit one of the hundreds of artists’ colonies throughout the world, perhaps Res Artis in Amsterdam, the Alliance of Artists’ Communities in Providence, even the Intra Asian Network in Taiwan, you might expect that the community houses people of like minds albeit all with temperamental personalities. “Final Portrait” will open your eyes to your mistake. The movie is directed by Stanley Tucci, whose busy professional life encompasses principally his acting as in “Submission” (as a professor accused of sexual harassment). Yet he is far from a slouch in the directing department. Consider his hit film “Big Night,” doubling as a actor playing a restaurateur trying to save his business. He does well with “Final Portrait,” though he states in production notes he does not care for biopics. By this he may mean those studies which are plot-directed such as “The Young Karl Marx,” which takes the intellectual founder of modern communism from his job in a magazine through his friendship with Engels and his founding of a troupe determined to restore equity to oppressed workers in all countries.
“Final Portrait” does not have a plot in the usual sense. All scenes take place in an around an artist’s Paris studio, the City of Lights during the year 1964, filmed in a London studio. As a showcase for the remarkable talents of Geoffrey Rush in the role of sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti, the picture’s thematic focus is on the vast personality differences that Giacometti had with a noted writer, James Lord (Armie Hammer), known today for his voluminous biography of the man he befriended.
“Final Portrait” begins in black-and-white, gradually morphing into color as the characters become better drawn together with the women in the sculptor’s life, namely his masochistic wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) and a vivacious hooker, Caroline (Clémence Poésy). Both men wear jackets and ties throughout, but Alberto’s is of the well-worn tweedy type worn by professors while James spends the movie in a fine suit. For both men no changes of outfit take place throughout since Lord is forced to wear the same suit for eighteen days because of the demands of the sculptor who, this time, concentrates on his painting and uses his friend to sit.
The comedy relies in large part on the way that Giacometti first tells the writer that he would be needed for two days, but that drags on to eighteen, requiring Lord to change his reservations to New York several times. Not that the painting should have required such delays: the volatile Giacometti in frustration twice smeared gray paint across the canvas and redid the face, frustrated for reasons not entirely clear. Nor is it true that he was in want of female company. His wife Annette whines that Giacometti will not spend money on her; that she needs a new coat “not mink” only to hear her husband’s rebuttal, “Who needs more than one coat?” A good deal of money is spent on his mistress Caroline who is with him on a long term basis, the most lively woman in the biopic, even irritating in her extroversion but not a problem at all for Giacometti.
Lord somehow is willing to put up with the painter’s delays, despite advice from the artist’s brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub), not the kind of patience one should expect of a man who is famous in his own right. Then again so far as we know the story is true, though maybe Lord, who is promised the painting which is to be shipped to New York for him may have realized that it would sell in 1990 for $20,000,000.
The two principals play their core personalities against each other, making the characterizations a delight, together with Evan Lucie’s joyful score of French pop from the sixties.
Rated R. 90 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+