It seems that Geoffrey Rush is the go-to man when it comes to casting the crazy genius. Whilst the level of crazy has varied from those who are merely eccentric, left-of-centre and a little bit odd to others who are stark raving mad, Rush has proven equally adept across the spectrum. Whether it be piano virtuoso David Helfgott or theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, comedian Peter Sellers or libertine philosopher Marquis De Sade, Rush has never shied away from the scrutiny that inevitably accompanies any characterisation of real life characters. In Final Portrait, it is Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti who gets the Rush treatment in this latest directorial effort from Stanley Tucci, his first since 2007’s Blind Date. Giacometti, if this representation is to be believed, was a talented painter and sculptor riddled with self-doubt who worked at an infuriatingly slow pace, preferring to spend his time in the company of others, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife Annette (Sylvie Testud).
The film covers a period of just a few weeks in the life of Giacometti, told from the point-of-view of American writer James Lord (Armie Hammer, with little to do other than look pretty), a friend of the artist who agrees to sit for a portrait, a commitment that Giacometti assures him will require no more than a few hours of his time. However, the project ultimately drags on for weeks with Giacometti constantly berating himself and insisting that he needs to start again. It is very difficult to determine how much time the pair spent together in the studio because each of the sessions only occupy a minute or two of screen time (presumably much, much longer in reality), making it seem as though Giacometti gives up before he even really begins. It is also difficult to determine whether Giacometti’s inability to get the painting finished is because of a genuine dissatisfaction with the work or whether it is because he simply likes Lord’s company, which is certainly the case when it comes to Giacometti’s portrait sessions with Caroline (Clémence Poésy), a young prostitute with whom he enjoys a relationship, the nature of which, like so much of what we see, is never articulated clearly.
Albert and Caroline are certainly very affectionate towards one another and whilst we see nothing that suggests they are engaged in a sexual relationship, there are obviously assumptions that can be made given her line of work and with Tucci, who also wrote the screenplay, offering little by way any clarity in this regard, such postulations are all we are left with. Tony Shalhoub (TV’s Monk) is terrifically understated and almost unrecognisable as Giacometti’s brother and collaborator Diego, a perpetually patient presence resigned to Alberto’s eccentricities and insecurities who developed a reputation of considerable renown as a sculptor in his own right.
Whilst the design team have recreated the ramshackle studio in which Giacometti worked with considerable accuracy, Tucci has compromised the authenticity of the piece by presenting the dialogue in English despite the fact that, according to various testimonies from people who had interactions with him, Giacometti could not speak a word of it. As such, whilst there is a significant physical resemblance between Rush and Giacometti, there is never a point when watching Final Portrait in which you lose yourself enough in the events to shed the lingering sense that there is something not quite right in Rush’s rendition of a character whose language no doubt formed a very large part of the way in which he expressed himself. For those who can forgive Tucci his willingness to sacrifice authenticity in a bid to entice those viewers for whom a foreign-language film is a fate worse than death, Final Portrait should prove enjoyable enough in the moment, but is unlikely to leave a lasting impression.