FI­NAL POR­TRAIT

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - An­drew Lowry

di­rec­tor Stan­ley Tucci cast Ge­of­frey Rush, Ar­mie Ham­mer, Clé­mence Poésy

plot Early 1960s, France: Amer­i­can writer James Lord (Ham­mer) agrees to sit for a por­trait for Al­berto Gi­a­cometti (Rush). What be­gins as a straight­for­ward por­trait ses­sion stretches out to day af­ter day of fruit­less work as the mer­cu­rial Gi­a­cometti strug­gles to fin­ish the paint­ing.

MOVIES ABOUT ARTISTS can be a dicey propo­si­tion. Some­times they work — Love Is The

Devil gives you in­sights into Fran­cis Ba­con no aca­demic text could — but more of­ten you get An­thony Hop­kins bel­low­ing his way through

Sur­viv­ing Pi­casso. Maybe there’s some­thing about draw­ing too di­rect a line from the work to the artist that feels re­duc­tive on film. Tellingly, John May­bury’s Ba­con-opic couldn’t show any of the paint­ings, so was forced to be cre­ative.

Fi­nal Por­trait el­e­gantly dodges the ‘life plus trauma plus easel equals art’ trap by look­ing at French painter Al­berto Gi­a­cometti (Rush) through specs that are any­thing but rose-tinted, and by fo­cus­ing on the cre­ation of one paint­ing, the ac­tual con­tent of which is in­ci­den­tal. In­stead, Stan­ley Tucci — here di­rect­ing for the fifth time — brings an ac­tor’s un­der­stand­ing of cre­ative in­se­cu­rity to this biopic, Gi­a­cometti con­stantly dis­parag­ing his own ta­lent, wip­ing out days’ worth of work to start again and burn­ing his old draw­ings.

In­stead of some ide­alised view of art as some mys­ti­cal alchemy, Tucci is far more in­ter­ested in the con­di­tions that lead to cre­ativ­ity, and the per­son­al­ity that cre­ates them. This ver­sion of Gi­a­cometti lives in a kind of barely or­gan­ised chaos, ne­glect­ing his wife (a sub­tle Sylvie Tes­tud) while openly dot­ing on his pros­ti­tute lover (Poésy, so vi­va­cious here she would have

Nou­velle Vague di­rec­tors chew­ing their cha­peaux). On some level, he seems to know that sat­is­fac­tion and con­tent­ment are the en­e­mies of art; this isn’t some silly Sil­i­con Val­ley view of cre­ativ­ity as play, but nei­ther is it about some no­tion of art as ther­apy. Gi­a­cometti burns hap­pi­ness and con­tent­ment as fuel for his work, and the sub­tle ways he con­sciously or un­con­sciously struc­tures his en­vi­ron­ment for his art to flour­ish at the ex­pense of those around him are fas­ci­nat­ing. Only Tony Shal­houb’s Diego, Gi­a­cometti’s as­sis­tant and brother, seems to get it, as he con­stantly hangs in the back­ground with a wry smile at his brother’s self-flag­el­la­tion, happy to ma­nip­u­late him when the time comes.

As Gi­a­cometti’s model, trapped in an end­less loop of aborted por­traits and post­poned flights, Ham­mer does good work with a thin role, his syrupy voice and nat­u­ral Wasp-ish­ness fill­ing gaps the script doesn’t. Ge­of­frey Rush’s flair for dis­so­lu­tion is well-used in the lead role, nail­ing Gi­a­cometti’s near ap­a­thy to any­thing that’s not work or booze, and de­liv­er­ing a near-silent open­ing that’s as tense as any thriller. Ham­mer ar­rives for his close-up, and a grum­bling, shuf­fling Rush sham­bles through his stu­dio in a se­ries of au­da­ciously ex­tended long takes. It’s the kind of drawn-out open­ing you get in the the­atre, con­fi­dently draw­ing you in — you can al­most feel Tucci’s years of tread­ing the boards.

His di­rec­tion else­where, mostly con­strained to an amaz­ingly de­tailed re­cre­ation of Gi­a­cometti’s stu­dio, is as alert to per­for­mance as you’d ex­pect. Es­sen­tially an ex­tended two-han­der, this man­ages to feel at once theatri­cal in its un­hur­ried con­tent­ment to just let two strong ac­tors bounce off each other, but also cin­e­matic in Tucci and DP Danny Co­hen’s el­e­gant cam­er­a­work — a pretty rare combo. The net re­sult is a ma­ture and wise drama about the cost and ben­e­fits of cre­ativ­ity. Tucci should spend more time be­hind the cam­era.

Ver­dict sen­si­bly drama­tis­ing a few rep­re­sen­ta­tive days rather than Gi­a­cometti’s whole life, this may seem slight, but there’s a lot to dig into here — and rush hasn’t had a show­case this good in years.

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