Stop me if you’ve heard this one before (no, seriously. stop me). A depraved creative genius is on a quest to find artistic value in living, treating everyone around ‘him’ like shit in the process.
That my friends, is Final Portrait.
And if you’re wondering why I said “him,” instead of the gender neutral, “them,” it’s because in film it always seems to be a “him.”
Much of Final Portrait, written and directed by Stanley Tucci, is a study of that unsatisfied man. It follows Swedish-Italian artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) over the course of a few days in September, as he asks writer James Lord (Armie Hammer) to sit for a portrait. An exercise that should have only required a day becomes weeks, and it’s in that procedure of time where Tucci attempts to make a film (the events of the film are based on the book, A Giacometti Portrait by Lord).
Rush, a brilliant veteran of the biopic: from Albert Einstein to Lionel Logue, portrays the frazzled acerbic artist who curses every dash of imperfection and lights cigarettes like they’re keeping him warm during the cold winter of his life. The artist is sloven, crude, and selfish, as he sits in a drab monochromatic room of earthen tones surrounded by his sculptures. Meanwhile, Hammer’s Lord is left with little to do.
Lord is a blank slate. A near sycophant, as he fauns over Giacometti’s genius. Continually and “regrettably” pushing back his flight home so the artist can finish what he does not wish to finish: a portrait. And while a blank slate may make the best painterly subject, though Giacometti says Lord looks like a degenerate, it makes for a boring character. Which is unfortunate because Hammer, from time-to-time, is a fine actor.
In fact, every bit of Final Portrait is tedious: from the monochromatic room meant to imitate the minimalism of the artist’s work to the words that leave his mouth.
I’m personally tired of Hollywood and Independent films worshiping figures like Giacometti, men who are revered and forgiven for their lifestyle, whatever their treatment of women.
In Final Portrait there are two women. The first being Annette (Sylvie Testud), Giacometti’s wife, who might as well be the same lifeless sculptures that surround the artist. She’s given no autonomy except to caress, sooth, and beg for her husband’s attention. The other, Caroline, is a spoiled brat of a prostitute. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to solely judge Caroline (Clémence Poésy) because the film says nothing about her. She comes. She goes. She takes. She laughs. But nothing is made of her character other than Giacometti’s need for her.
He says, “She’s done so much for me.”
What has she done so much of?
I don’t wanna know.
As a matter of fact, even the artist’s brother: Diego (Tony Shalhoub) is nothing more than a shell. The script never interrogates his role. Instead when Diego is asked to participate in the proceedings, it’s only to discover Giacometti’s motives.
In short, the characters exhibit zero depth past Giacometti. They’re silent flies on the wall. Experts in minimalism, but deficient in screen time.
But worst yet, not only is Final Portrait another attempt to illicit awe for a troubled male artistic figure, it’s not even a “good” attempt.
Instead, it’s shallow and dull. Much of Giacometti’s dialogue is exactly where art and Independent cinema have erred. It’s shock for the sake of shock. .
There’s a moment when the artist remarks that he used to dream about raping and murdering two women. It “comforted” him.
When these lines are delivered, one has an automatic, ‘Um, okay’ reaction. Did we need another clue that Giacometti believes women are disposable? Did we have to again learn that he’s irrationally lewd?
In actuality, the lines mean nothing. They’re a feigned attempt at significant meaning, wrapped in a dream with little purpose.
And while there is some smooth camerawork in Final Portrait, zooming in-and-out from Hammer’s face, focusing and blurring, the movement only helps to give us a painterly eye, but it doesn’t make for a riveting examination. Even when we are mercilessly taken away from the artist’s studio on a sunny joyride in a convertible, it’s short lived. We’re back in the chair with Hammer, waiting for a 90-minute film to stop feeling like 2 hours.
The rest of Final Portrait is as drab as the apartment Giacometti inhabits. Making it a mostly well-acted and shot film, with a thin veneer waiting to be painting over.