Friday, 23 June 2017

FINAL PORTRAIT : Saturday 17th June 2017.

Alberto Giacometti was a Swiss sculptor, painter, draughtsman and printmaker who lived from 1901 until 1966, when he died in Paris, France from heart disease and chronic bronchitis. This film 'Final Portrait' by Director, Writer and Actor Stanley Tucci (in his fifth Directorial outing) tells the story of Giacometti over a three week or so period in 1964, when the world renowned artist asked his American art critic and biographer friend James Lord to sit for him for what turns out to be his final portrait. I saw this film as part of the Sydney Film Festival last weekend, having had its Australian Premier at the Festival on 10th June. It had its World Premier at the Berlin International Film Festival in February this year, is due for release in the UK in early August, and not until early October for its general release in Australia. The film is based on the biography by James Lord 'A Giacometti Portrait', adapted for the screen by Stanley Tucci.

Set in Paris in 1964 we are told in voiceover by American biographer and art critic James Lord (Armie Hammer) of Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) and his work as a celebrated world renowned sculptor, painter and artist, and that the famed Giacometti has asked him to pose for him, in order that he can paint his portrait. Of course, this is a great honour for Lord, and he can only but oblige his old friend by agreeing, even though he has a flight scheduled back home to the US in 48 hours.

After the first sitting, Giacometti says that his sitting may take a little longer than expected and if he could put his flight back 24 hours. Of course, easily done responds Lord - well, really what else can he say? However, Lord soon comes to realise that the work of a genius cannot be hurried, and it is Giacometti who decides on a whim when it is time for work, drink, food, doubt, destruction, flirtation or laughter in his studio. After the first three days have lapsed, Lord again is asked to delay his flight, but only for a few more days. 

Giacometti is an established artist whose works fetch record prices. When he is paid for his work he hides huge bundles of cash in his studio, fearing the banks as being untrustworthy. He often forgets where he has hidden his wads of cash. He is a man of modest means living in your average Parisian two up two down terrace house with a ramshackle studio. His nonchalant attitude to money is just one of the causes of many an altercation with his wife Annette (Sylvie Testud), another being that his young attractive prostitute mistress and quasi-muse Caroline (Clemence Poesy) receives all his attention. She is his reason for being, his motivation and his incentive to carry on with his life and his work, and she too is mid-way sitting for him for a portrait in progress. His brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub), is also an artist and working in an adjacent studio, is more than familiar with his idiosyncrasies, his mood swings, and his at times unpredictable temperament. 

As another week goes by, Lord is asked to postpone his flight home again due to slow progress with the painting, or it not being upto Giacometti's standard. Often, the artist will start to paint, and then interrupt proceedings with the desire to go for a walk to talk, or to visit the local bistro for something to eat, or drink, or to take rides in the car, or to meet with Caroline. Lord puts on a brave face but becomes increasingly frustrated by the slow progress his artist friend is taking - but what can he do, other than play along, and pacify those in the US who seek his return home. 

Meanwhile Lord has to postpone his flight once more, asking 'how long can this go on for'. By now we are two weeks in, and Diego who overhears Lords rhetorical question says months, years, perhaps for ever, as Alberto seeks perfection in his work, which he knows is in reality unattainable. As three weeks almost clock up and yet more flight postponements, the day comes when Lord has to bite the bullet and leave. Giacometti bids him farewell, Caroline has disappeared off somewhere else with her pimps, leaving the artist and his wife Annette to go about their business, and Giacometti to consider his unfinished portrait.

Here Rush inhibits the character of Giacometti, much as he did with his portrayal of pianist David Helfgott in 1996's 'Shine', and he makes his character study intricate, grounded and nuanced as we laugh at his jokes, relish at his idle gossip, his habits and his foibles, his inconsistent work routine, his preferred watering holes, his insistent chain smoking, his dishevelled appearance, the razor sharp wit of his conversation and his sarcasm and his down beaten studio where everything is presented to us looking in in various shades of black, white and grey. Armie Hammer puts in a subdued but nonetheless commendable performance as the subject of the artist, showing restraint, politeness and conservatism  even as time marches on and repeated postponements to his schedule. As for Stanley Tucci in his fifth turn as Director he here depicts Giacometti as a genius showing us his strengths and weaknesses of his chaotic work life, his self-doubt, and his inner strength to destroy that which he is not completely satisfied with and start over again. A comical, entertaining and engaging study of one of the great artists of the 20th Century, that has been highly praised by Critics.

-Steve, at Odeon Online-

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