SXSW Film Review: Final Portrait

Stanley Tucci's film cuts a wonderful slice of artistic anguish

You know what I’m a sucker for? Films about the creative process. No matter the object being created – a painting, a film, or a fruit tart – the appeal of watching someone pull something out of the ether of their imagination is endlessly fascinating to me.

I suspect Stanley Tucci has a similar affinity to that process as well, ever since he collaborated with Campbell Scott in the delightful 1996 film Big Night, a celebration of delicious cuisine, but also a poignant treatise on art vs. commerce. Which brings us to Final Portrait, as Tucci has adapted writer James Lord’s A Giacometti Portrait, in which the author (played by Armie Hammer) poses for a portrait by the artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) in Paris circa 1964. What starts as a seemingly innocuous endeavor that should have taken a few days becomes an odyssey of frustration and artistic torment that ends up taking weeks.

Giacometti, already established as a titan of the art world at the time, is still wracked with feelings of incompetence and self-doubt in his abilities, and continues to paint over the portrait, his large brush erasing the painting to start anew, generally accompanied by an “Oh, fuck!” The friendship between the writer and artist is the through line here, with strolls around Paris cemeteries, and philosophic discussion (and dissing Picasso) balancing out the scenes of Lord sitting in a chair and Giacometti staring at a canvas, endlessly smoking cigarettes. But the magic of the film lies in Tucci’s eye for a sense of place, Paris in the Sixties, and while the scenes in Giacometti’s studio are all blacks and grays, there are shining moments of color that sparkle (a woman’s coat, a warmly lit cafe). An ongoing subplot involving a prostitute, Caroline (Clémence Poésy), with whom Giacometti becomes obsessed becomes a bit tiring, but it is Tony Shalhoub as Giacometti’s brother Diego who quietly steals the show. (At one point he notes, “My brother can only be happy when he is desperate and uncomfortable,” which could be the thesis statement for the entire film, and also a sentiment that hits a little too close to home.) Shalhoub's patience and wry countenance balance Rush’s agonized artist pyrotechnics. And while the film traverses some well-worn territory in that respect, the performances elevate the proceedings, and leave you longing for autumn strolls along the Seine.

Final Portrait

Headliners, North American Premiere
Saturday, March 10, 9pm, Satellite Venue: AFS Cinema

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SXSW Film, Final Portrait, Armie Hammer, Geoffrey Rush, SXSW Film Review

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