Movie MAGic #2: Final Portrait // Patrick

In Movie MAGic, we’ll be reviewing films with art or artist-related themes from Hollywood biopics to foreign art house movies. Not sure that you actually like arty movies? Too pretentious, up themselves and hard to understand? Don’t let that put you off. We‘re here to help you with our own VS scale of difficulty;

 

EASY

Straight forward plot, easy to follow and entertaining. Requires little thought. Sunday afternoon, stuff. Starring actors you’ve probably heard of. Definitely no subtitles.

 

MODERATE

Nothing too scary, possibility of subtitles, but still a straight forward, average length film; no explosions or car chases, but a high chance of intense emotional grimacing and moody silences. Might possibly be in black and white, which could just mean that’s it’s old rather than arty.

 

DIFFICULT

Might have a challenging length, non-linear story structure, avante garde cinematography or mature themes (sexuality, nudity, etc). High probability of subtitles. Afterwards you’ll feel like you’ve earned a good stiff drink, or a box set binge of light comedy to cheer yourself up.

 

Until recently Giacometti’s Portrait of Elvezia Michel-Baldini (Nee Stampa) has been on display in gallery 11 as part of our To Be Human exhibition. To mark that, the first movie out of our projector gate is;

 

Final Portrait (2017)

Starring: Geoffrey Rush (him from The King’s Speech, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shine)

Armie Hammer (him from The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Lone Ranger, Social Network)

Clemence Posey (her from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire / Deathly Hallows 1 & 2)

Written and directed by: Stanley Tucci

Running time: 90 minutes

 Armie Hammer and Geoffrey Rush / © Parisa Taghizadeh

Armie Hammer and Geoffrey Rush / © Parisa Taghizadeh

Paris, 1964. Famous sculptor and artist Alberto Giacometti asks writer James Lord to sit for a portrait, assuring him it would only take an afternoon. With his flight back to America booked the next day, Lord agrees. When Giacometti declares early on that ‘no portrait can ever be finished.’ you know that things aren’t going to go according to plan, and both artist and model find themselves trapped in a situation from which neither can free themselves.

 

Whether holding forth on Picasso, or squirrelling away huge wads of cash around his studio Rush’s cantankerous, acerbic and witty Giacometti is never anything less that watchable and  Hammer’s understated performance is the perfect foil.

 

Apart from occasional forays out into the streets of Paris and Giacometti’s local haunts, the film is set mostly in Giacometti’s chaotic studio, with visitations and interruptions from Giacometti’s long-suffering wife Annette (Sylvia Testud), his brother and studio assistant Diego (Tony Shaloub), and Caroline (Clémence Poésy), Giacometti’s mistress and muse with whom Giacometti has developed a complicated relationship.

 

Even though it’s a film about the painting of a portrait, it’s not boring, creating a tension between artist and sitter, artist and painting and, ultimately, between sitter and painting. Giacometti’s frustration with his own work raises a few laughs in the beginning until, like Lord, we begin to learn what that entails and we start to sympathise with Lord’s position. As days turn to weeks, Lord desperately tries to find a way to escape, one that, when it comes, wouldn’t seem out of place in a Prisoner-of-War movie (and no, I’m not talking about digging a tunnel).

 

Also, unlike most films about art, this film does have explosions and a car chase to recommend it. Well, all right, explosions of expletives as Giacometti repeatedly voices his frustration, and one race through the Paris streets after which Giacometti vows never to travel by car again.

 

Although the muted greys of Giacometti’s studio may give it an arty black-and-white feel at times, the film has a touching comedic heart that makes it an entertaining watch. And, while there are subtitles as dialogue occasionally lapses into French, there are fewer than in your average Star Wars movie, so don’t be put off. And in a world where films seem to constantly run over two hours, this one is a very trim ninety minutes. Unlike Giacometti, Tucci knows when to finish his portrait.

 

Overall, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the creative process and the mind of a great artist. But is it all Hollywood fabrication, or is it true to life? Well, it’s based on James Lord’s A Giacometti Portrait, his own published account of the sitting, so as far as it goes, yes, most of it really happened.

 

VS Verdict: EASY to MODERATE

Film Trailer / © Transmission Films