Let’s sit still.
Final Portrait is Stanley Tucci’s first outing as a director and he delivers a contemplative film about the nature of art, artist, and subject. We follow American author James Lord (Armie Hammer) after he agrees to sit for Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) for a short portrait. Almost immediately, it is clear that there will be nothing short about this process as Alberto is a perfectionist who is tormented by his own insecurities.
Lord interacts with Alberto’s wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) who must watch her husband openly cheat with Caroline (Clemence Posey), a young prostitute. The situations are troubling, but we aren’t given clear answers. The closest we get to a detailed analysis is when Lord speaks with Diego Giacometti (Tony Shalhoub) about how difficult Alberto is.
For a film that is literally about watching someone draw it is oddly compelling. It is hard to tell if we should love or hate Alberto as he has so many qualities that encourage either emotion. The film is stressful at times as Alberto is at points almost unbearable, but at other times we see a tender humanness that only someone like Rush can truly capture.
We get a look into the artistic mind and process—including the flaws. Alberto is trying to capture something but knows he cannot. Even his attempts to describe what he sees as the importance of art are not clearly spoken. He has an image—or an idea of an image—that will forever elude him. Alberto’s relations to other artists is interesting, but more information here would have elevated the film.
Final Portrait is not the type of film for everyone. The drama comes from glances, words, and subtle changes in the behaviors of the characters (all actors do impeccable work). The conflicts here are internal to the characters and we do not have (many) external visual cues to guide us. If that description of a drama sounds frustrating, then you probably won’t like the film. If it sounds interesting, then you probably will. This is an interesting, quiet, and contemplative film that will leave you thinking about it after the credits roll