Final Portrait (4 stars)

Final Portrait

EIFF 2017: Enjoyably farcical biopic of Alberto Giacometti, from Stanley Tucci

Despite the severe-sounding title, this is a delightfully playful look at the life of Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti (played here by Geoffrey Rush). Written and directed by Stanley Tucci, the artist is seen through the eyes of American writer James Lord (Armie Hammer) who has the fortune and then the misfortune of posing for a portrait.

Set in the Paris of 1964, hours turn to days and days turn to weeks as this faultlessly polite young man becomes slave to the whims of a capricious creator who's wracked with self-doubt and prone to endlessly erasing his work. James is also a captive audience to Giacometti's turbulent personal life – befriending his hard-done-by wife Annette (Sylvie Testud), his devoted brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub) and his manic mistress Caroline (Clémence Poésy) – and finds the deadline extended to the point of absurdity. Optimistic and patient at first, 'I think I'm going to die here,' he eventually concedes, taking up swimming to relieve the physical and psychological strain.

With the conversation ebbing and flowing and often taking bizarre turns (Giacometti expresses a desire to burn himself alive, slags off Cézanne and Picasso, and asks James if he's ever wanted to be a tree), Final Portrait is an entertaining examination of the shifting dynamic between artist and subject. Although it plays like a farce, it's drained of colour to fit Giacometti's sombre visual style and beautifully shot by regular Tom Hooper collaborator Danny Cohen whose camera pokes and prods at both men, explores the nooks and crannies of the artist's studio and revels in their games of cat and mouse.

It ends rather suddenly and Rush's Swiss accent isn't much cop, but he's a fascinating curmudgeon who bears a reasonable resemblance to the artist, possessing the kind of characterful profile that cinema loves. Hammer, too, could hardly be more fittingly cast; there's a satisfying sense of contrast between the dapper, all-American sitter and the dishevelled and debauched man holding the brush. Warmly witty, jauntily scored but also emphatically warts and all, this feels like a breath of fresh air in the field of artist biopics. Tucci captures his subject from a range of interesting angles without ever resorting to po-faced portraiture himself.

Screened on Sun 25 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 18 Aug.

Final Portrait

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • UK
  • 1h 30min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Stanley Tucci
  • Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clémence Poésy
  • UK release: 18 August 2017

American writer James Lord (Hammer) poses for a portrait by legendary painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti (Rush), but regrets it as the deadline is extended beyond absurdity. Delightfully playful examination of the artist-subject relationship, and both Rush and Hammer are perfectly cast as the curmudgeonly master and…