James Lord (Armie Hammer), nel settembre del 1964 diventa 'modello' per un'opera dell'artista Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush). Le sedute continuano per diciotto pomeriggi. Durante le pose Giacometti parla, va, viene, si angoscia, si dispera. La sera, tornando a casa, Lord annota la conversazione. Durante ogni posa il ritratto prende forma per riperderla l'indomani: ogni giorno un ritratto va perduto sotto il pennello. Lord decide di fotografarlo prima di ogni seduta. Il libro contiene cosĂŹ diciotto conversazioni e diciotto ritratti, fermati dalla fotografia, ma spariti dalla tela, cosĂŹ come le parole di Giacometti sarebbero sparite se Lord non le avesse fermate. Un film che segue la relazione tra Dio, il critico d'arte Lord e il pittore svizzero.
The story of Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti
Commento critico (a cura di Owen Gleiberman, www.variety.com)
Stanley Tucci's exuberant miniature biopic seems to eavesdrop on the life of Alberto Giacometti, played by Geoffrey Rush as a worldly and tormented saint of art.
The biopic was once a rather schlocky genre. That was back in the day when every film biography had to tell a personâs entire life story from soup to nuts. Is it any wonder that those movies skittered through incidents or that they lacked texture and detail? The biopic grew much more artful when it began to focus on single intense chapters of a famous personâs life â like, say, the passing of the 13th Amendment in âLincoln,â or Brian Wilsonâs recording of âPet Soundsâ in âLove & Mercy.â Now, in âFinal Portrait,â Stanley Tucci, directing his first film in 10 years, takes the biopic to an even more exquisitely homespun level of miniature close-up. He has made an entire drama about the
couple of weeks in 1964 when Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), the fabled Swiss sculptor and painter (then 63 years old), decided to create a portrait of his friend, the American author and art critic James Lord (Armie Hammer).
Watching âFinal Portrait,â you get only random bits and pieces of Giacomettiâs âlife story,â but in another way the film bites off a whole chunk of his life and presents it to you just as it might have happened. Over the course of two weeks that seem not all that eventful â yet, in another way, as eventful as any two weeks â we soak up his jokes and his gossip, his habits, his work schedule, his favorite dives, his drinking and chain smoking, the cranky competitive wit of his conversation. Itâs as if we werenât so much watching a movie about him as hanging out with him.
Much of âFinal Portraitâ takes place
in Giacomettiâs studio, a crumbling garret with high ceilings located down a brick-walk alleyway in Paris. It doesnât look the work space of somebody who has become one of the most famous and celebrated artists of his time. It looks like a dim bohemian hovel, a place strewn with debris where everything comes in grim shades of white, gray, and black: the iconic spindly-limbed sculptures that are placed nearly at random around the room; the cruddy walls and peeling-paint doorways; and Giacometti himself â played by Rush, in a performance of dissolute exuberance, as a kind of rumpled mad professor in a tweed jacket and sweater vest, with a nimbus of graying hair and a creased and bulbous look that redefines the word âhangdog.â
His American friend James is about to return to New York, and Alberto casually lets him know that heâd like to paint his portrait before he goes;
it will take just a few hours. But once those hours are up, the painting has barely been started. James has to keep coming back, day after day, postponing his flight, as the obsessive and self-lacerating Giacometti layers in fine-drawn black-and-white lines, trying to âperfectâ the portrait. Except that the perfection heâs seeking is unattainable. As we learn, he canât complete anything, and considers even the works that have made him famous â the emaciated sculptures that look like they werenât so much carved as dripped â to be unfinished.
Rush and Tucci create a captivating portrait of an artist whoâs at once elated, haunted, and utterly possessed. The Giacometti we see lives a simple life, working away in the studio and then heading off to the local bistro to guzzle red wine. His wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud), was once his muse, and we can see â though the film never
Rush makes Giacometti a winningly cranky scoundrel-egomaniac, the kind of celebrity artist who appears to treat fame as an afterthought (it doesnât stop him from tormenting himself), yet who has constructed his entire existence around the freedom that fame brings. Every so often, his agent stops by to deliver stacks of money, which heâs too paranoid to deposit in banks (considering that heâs Swiss, that counts as major paranoia). Instead, he âhidesâ them around the
studio, dipping into the cash whenever he needs it â notably after the place gets trashed as a warning by Carolineâs pimps. They havenât been paid, so Alberto heads down to the bar, hands them a giant wad of bills for the last six months, and another for the next six, and heâs all set. He doesnât mind paying a price, because sheâs as necessary to him as water.
âFinal Portraitâ confirms that Stanley Tucci, who wrote and directed the film (adapting Lordâs book on Giacometti), is the most modest yet nimble of moviemakers: a specialist in life-size portraiture, who finds the interior hum of drama in each and every moment. At times, the film suggests a light historical version of âLife Lessons,â the great Martin Scorsese segment of âNew York Storiesâ (1989). But you can also draw a direct line from what Tucci did 20 years ago in âBig Nightâ
(co-directing with Campbell Scott) to his wry and intimate undercutting of artist-biopic grandiosity here. âBig Night,â after all, was the story of a restaurant putting on one elaborate go-for-broke dinner, and in âFinal Portrait,â Giacomettiâs attempt to capture his friend in a painting becomes the entire world for him â itâs not just a painting, itâs a quest. After a while, heâll take his etching of the face, which has been so intricately constructed, and blot it out with gray paint, starting all over. Is this obsession, or self-annihilating perfection, or insanity, or a kind of genius? Maybe all of the above. Whatâs clear is that Giacometti, whose favorite thing to say when staring at the canvas is âOh, fâ-k,â as if he were having an existential meltdown, is out to capture a truth that most of us canât begin to see.
The central relationship is the one between Alberto and
James, who he says resembles a thug, and who wonders how long this sitting can possibly go on. Armie Hammer bears a striking resemblance to the real James Lord, and plays him with polite elegance, except that whatâs fascinating about this actor is how heâs able to suggest turbulent eddies of thought beneath the blondish Clark Kent looks and preppie manners. In âFinal Portrait,â James embraces Alberto for the impossible task master he is, and the way that Rush plays Giacometti, his prankish testiness becomes a kind of holy armor. You donât necessarily feel close to him â heâs another of Rushâs mad-dog monster-saints â yet watching the movie, you feel youâve gotten to know who Alberto Giacometti is, and to revel in what it was like when an artist, sitting in a shabby studio, could command the world.