Film Review: Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait (USA, 2017) is filled with effortless charm

We meet Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) in a state of supreme boredom – another day, another exhibition. With his hair sticking up, and a cigarette hanging eternally from his lips, he looks like a crumpled echidna whose snout is on fire, but who cares. It’s James Lord (Armie Hammer) who bothers to bring us this tale. By the end, Giacometti has made a mockery of both James’ narration and enthusiasm; first by telling the art writer that it will take him one afternoon to paint his portrait, and then by taking over two weeks to not quite do so.

James, who, like a cartoon character, finds himself having to wear the same blue coat and tan pants every day, will have no great revelations for his effort. Giacometti’s artistic process seems to boil down to one expletive said so often and so uniformly, it could have been recorded just once. The artist’s wife (Sylvie Testud) barely kicks up a fuss over his mistress (Clémence Poésy), though they’re regularly in the same room. In any other film, certainly any other biopic, the artist’s brother (Tony Shalhoub) – himself a much more tranquil artist – would reveal the secret that Alberto doesn’t know about himself. In this film, he just laughs.

And, seriously, day after day, scene after scene, the portrait is obliterated and repainted, with as many glasses of wine for company. That’s how it begins, that’s how it ends. Writer/director Stanley Tucci gets away with it because of the effortless charm of his style and his cast. His depiction of Paris, 1964, plays like a hangover of Midnight in Paris (2011). It’s Autumn, it’s older and tireder, but still very funny and very beautiful.  Alberto’s studio, where much of the action takes place, is an odyssey of crusty walls and sculptures, suggesting good days, bad days, and everything between.

The narrative, mounted on wayward cinematography, feels similarly crusty. If you blink at the wrong time, you might miss a flash of scorn in a restaurant mirror. The Pierre (James Faulkner) that Alberto’s having lunch with – representing about thirty seconds of screen time – is that meant to be Pierre Matisse? Well, the artists must have been friends, and that must be enough of that. It’s like the arc’s all there, but they refuse to condense it into a fortnight, so you only get the crust. Still, as far as crusts go…

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Final Portrait is in cinemas 5th October 2017