Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “Final Portrait” (2017):
With some artists, I need an In to appreciate their work. “Final Portrait” was the In I needed to access the amazing work of the Swiss Alberto Giacometti, one of the great artists of the twentieth century. He was as important to the art world as many of his contemporaries including Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Dali and Henry Moore. He was a sculptor, a painter, a printmaker.
At the end of his career, he had abandoned all art movements and focused on creating something original. Influenced by existentialism, he stripped down his sculptures and portraits to what would seem to be the essence of the subject.
“Final Portrait” is based on A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord, a writer who made the art world his subject. Director Stanley Tucci gives us a few weeks in the artist’s life in 1964, close to the end of his life. During those weeks, James Lord (Armie Hammer) sits for the artist for a portrait. Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush)i tells Lord that it will only take two or three days. The process turns into weeks and what seems to be an eternity for Lord. A painful eternity.
It is a gray world, the studio of Giacometti. Only Caroline, the prostitute and Giacometti’s muse, brings color into his world. As the project continues, James Lord gets to see Giacometti create. Geoffrey Rush is always good. No matter the part. Whether it be David Helfgott in “Shine,” Sir Francis Walsingham in “Elizabeth,” Javert in “Les Miserables,” Harry in “Tailor of Panama,” The Maquis de Sade in “Quills,” or Lionel Logue in “The King’s Speech,” his work as an actor is superb. As Alberto Giacometti, he gives one of the best performances of the films I have seen him in.
Lord also gets to know Giacometti’s brother and closest friend, Diego, played by Tony Shalhoub. I have enjoyed Shalhoub’s work since I first saw him as the Italian cabdriver, Antonio Scarpacci, in the series “Wings”. Later he was the hypochondriatic detective Adrian Monk in “Monk”. At first, I didn’t recognize Shalhoub. His quietness seems to make him fade into the scenery. Shalhoub makes us realize how essential Diego was to his brother.
Giacometti’s long suffering wife, Annette, is played by Sylvie Testud and Clemance Poesy is Caroline, Giacometti’s prostitute muse. Both actresses are French and new to American audiences. And both are wonderful as the two closest women in Giacometti’s life.
Usually biopics are a chronological narrative of the subject. What he did when he was a kid. What got her started on her road to greatness. But the movies seem to leave something out. Something that is the essence of the subject. Something that reveals the inner light that makes the subject worthy of so much attention.
By concentrating on a short time, Stanley Tucci has given us the Giacometti’s life. He has brought insights into the artist’s creative process: the struggle, the perfectionism, the desire never to settle, the focus, the concentration. By choosing those few weeks in 1964, Tucci has given us what may be easily called a great biopic.