Student Critic Laura Hancock reviews Final Portrait (Stanley Tucci, UK, 2017)
Stanley Tucci’s later years biopic of Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti – best known for his elongated sculptures of human figures - is not quite as insufferable as its chosen subject.
In the first scene James Lord, a young American art critic, tells us that the great Giacometti has offered to paint his portrait in his Paris studio. He does so unaware that it would be an excessively drawn out, torturous process and the final portrait that Giacometti would produce. An afternoon of posing turns into weeks of work in the artist’s dilapidated studio and a string of delayed flights to James’s home in New York. What follows is a fly on the wall look into Giacometti’s tumultuous private life and testing personality.
Giacometti’s studio is a quiet but chaotic space punctured by the same obscene outcry from the disgruntled artist. It is home to his troubled relationship with his wife Annette that is constantly interrupted by his energetic lover Caroline; a prostitute who becomes Giacometti’s obsession. The studio is where Giacometti’s creative frustration and acerbic wit find a perfect sounding board in James. A palpably lonely and plain figure James does not inspire the same passionate enthusiasm in Giacometti as his muse Caroline, but the portrait sittings with James provide him with an opportunity to air his frustrations and philosophies. In one sitting the artist casually divulges his disturbing dream in which he fantasises raping and then killing a woman with little to no reaction from James. Throughout James is an inanimate and undogmatic puppet-like figure: the perfect unquestioning portrait subject for Giacometti.
Geoffrey Rush is brilliant as the self-diagnosed neurotic artist who is doubtful of his own ability. His grunting in the first painting scene alone is enough to rival the grunting talent of Timothy Spall in Mr Turner. Yet despite this admirable performance Final Portrait, much like the portrait that Giacometti fails to complete, feels unfinished. The lacklustre use of intertitles, occasional sloppy transitions and an overlong running time emphasise the films tedious pace. There is a performance to admire from Rush and a notable achievement in Final Portrait’s approach in capturing the nuances of portrait posing and Giacometti’s post-impressionist painting style through close-ups, handheld camerawork and the well-timed editing of the painting scenes. However all of this is overcome by the feeling that you might never witness the completion of the portrait. Like James you find yourself focused on the end point as opposed to enjoying the moment of creation.
Laura Hancock is 22 and has just graduated from the University of York with a degree in English and Related Literature.