FINAL PORTRAIT — Review by Diane Carson

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True to its title, Final Portrait chronicles, in tiresomely repetitious detail, Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti’s cajoling American writer James Lord to sit for what becomes Giacometti’s final portrait. Promised as a few hours’ work, the 1964 event stretches to nineteen days because of Giacometti’s characteristic self-criticism and his obsessive need to undo (his words) several days’ work, to start afresh. Continue reading…

At work daily in a dreary Parisian atelier, with his living quarters shared by his wife Annette and his artist brother Diego, Giacometti fusses and complains about the impossibility of painting an acceptable portrait. He says he thinks about suicide every day, that he can only be happy when desperate and uncomfortable. Blithely insulting a devoted Annette, Alberto perks up only when his favorite prostitute Caroline visits or when he strolls in the nearby cemetery or goes to grab wine and food. Through it all, his patient model Lord guardedly observes, repeatedly postpones his return to New York, and sits like a manikin in a very uncomfortable looking chair.

Writer/director Stanley Tucci has patience beyond mine for what Lord, one of Giacometti’s biographers, conveys as a painfully slow process, escaped in precious few scenes. One with Caroline luring Alberto and Lord for a drive in her red BMW feels jarring, as if inserted from another film. So too is Clémence Poésy’s acting style that clashes noticeably with Armie Hammer’s undemonstrative Lord. Hammer does sustain the scrutiny of the many close-ups as cinematographer Danny Cohen’s camera microscopically examines his face, but Hammer invites no emotional investment. Geoffrey Rush gives a flawless performance as Alberto, and yet, once again, the women remain marginalized, underdeveloped, and inconsequential as the prostitute and the wife.

Tucci presents Lord and Giacometti as dichotomous opposites: Lord walks, Alberto shuffles; Lord is dapper and trim, Alberto slovenly and disheveled; Lord sits quietly and straight, Alberto grumbles, mutters and slouches. Admittedly, capturing the creative process is difficult but are we to indulge, even celebrate, narcissism because of a great artist?

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.