Final Portrait (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): An erratic artist and his frustrated model

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“Final Portrait” reminds me that some of great artists are difficult people to hang around with. Focusing on a long, problematic artistic process between an artist of undeniable genius and a man who admires him but becomes increasingly frustrated with his eccentricity, this modest movie gives us a sly, humorous comedy about that agony and ecstasy of artistic creation, and it is often fun to watch the strained interactions between its two different main characters.

Although he is not as well-known to many of us as Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) was one of the most prominent artists representing the 20th century modern art. Although many of his sculptures may look a little too simple in their monochromatic texture, they have been regarded as invaluable artworks, and, according to Wikipedia, one of his sculptures was sold for no less than 126 million dollars in 2015.

Based on American writer James Lord’s memoir “A Giacometti Portrait”, the movie mainly revolves around 18 days between Lord and Giacometti in Paris, 1964. When Lord, played by Armie Hammer, is staying in Paris, Giacometti, played by Geoffrey Rush, asks him to be a model for his new portrait, and Lord is certainly excited by this wonderful opportunity, but it gradually turns out that spending time with Giacometti is not as easy as he initially thought. When he comes to Giacometti’s studio, he expects that he will just sit in front of Giacometti for two or three hours, but he subsequently finds himself staying in Paris a lot longer than expected just because Giacometti needs more time for finishing the portrait, and he understandably becomes frustrated more and more as days go by without much progress shown from Giacometti.

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Meanwhile, Lord gets to know a bit more about two women around Giacometti. His long-suffering wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) clearly wants more care and attention from her husband, but she has been instead quite exasperated mainly due to her husband’s affair with a young prostitute named Caroline (Clémence Poésy), and Giacometti does not even try to hide his ongoing affair with Caroline from his wife. As he frequently lavishes more money on Caroline, Annette naturally becomes more furious and jealous, and she eventually clashes with her husband at one point. In case of Caroline, she has her own issues with Giacometti, but she is fine with him as long as he takes care of her financial matter, and we get a humorous moment when Giacometti surprises her pimps with a very generous offer they cannot possibly refuse.

In addition, Lord gets to know more about how Giacometti works. While it often looks like Giacometti does not do much except adding a few touches on the canvass, but it also seems that he is slowly making a progress, though he frequently goes back to where he began to Lord’s frustration. While coming to admire more of Giacometti’s artistic talent, Lord worries more about how long it actually takes for Giacometti to finish the portrait, and then there comes a point where he gets a nice idea while talking with Giacometti’s supportive brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub).

Leisurely observing what is going on between Giacometti and Lord, the movie is engaging as deftly presenting their relationship via small interesting moments, and director Stanley Tucci, who also adapted Lord’s memoir for his film, and his production designer James Merifield did a good job of establishing a vivid background surrounding Giacometti and Lord. I must confess that Giacometti’s studio looked quite cheerless to me with its drab, melancholic atmosphere, but I came to sense his artistry to some degrees, and I also came to regard Giacometti in the film with some amusement. Sure, he is not exactly a pleasant person, but he is a colorful guy to watch at least, and I could not help but amused as observing his erratic side.

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Tucci draws solid performances from his two lead performers. While Rush, who is no stranger to eccentric artist characters as shown from his Oscar-winning performance in “Shine” (1996), is simply delightful whenever he wields his character’s capricious personality, Hammer, who has shown more of his considerable talent through several recent films including “Call Me by Your Name” (2017), functions as an effective counterpart to his co-actor, and they always generate interesting things to notice whenever they are together on the screen.

In case of a few substantial performers surrounding Rush and Hammer, they hold well each own place. While Sylvie Testud, who was unforgettable in “Lourdes” (2009), fills her rather thankless role with nuances to be appreciated, Clémence Poésy brings some cheeriness into the movie whenever she appears, and we can see why Giacometti needs both of two women in his life. As a guy who probably understands his artist brother more than anyone, Tony Shalhoub, who previously collaborated with Tucci in Tucci’s debut feature film “Big Night” (1996), gives a suitably low-key performance, and he is particularly good when his character slyly helps Lord manipulate Giacometti later in the story.

While he is mainly known for his supporting turns in a number of notable movies including “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006), “The Hunger Games” (2012), and “Spotlight” (2015), Tucci is also a good filmmaker, and that is exemplified well in “Final Portrait.” Although I think its last act feels rather hurried and I cannot help but wonder whether it would work better if it were a short film, the movie is mostly amusing and entertaining thanks to its vivid mood and commendable performances, and I guess the 90 minutes of my life is spent well on the whole.

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