Final Portrait

Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer in Final Portrait. (Ster-Kinekor)
Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer in Final Portrait. (Ster-Kinekor)


In 1964, while on a short trip to Paris, the American writer and art lover James Lord is asked by his friend, the world-renowned artist Alberto Giacometti, to sit for a portrait. The process, Giacometti assures Lord, will take only a few days. Flattered and intrigued, Lord agrees. So begins not only the story of a touching and offbeat friendship, but, seen through the eyes of Lord, a uniquely revealing insight into the beauty, frustration, profundity and, at times, downright chaos of the artistic process.


I have seen a fair share of art movies that focuses on a glimpse or an entirety of a famous artist’s life, and although some were brilliant and others boring, for most of them you feel very removed from the artistic process – an observer watching someone else create.

Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait however grabs the audience through the screen and places them within the artwork being completed by using intimate camerawork and music that makes you feel very aware of yourself. Nothing very exciting happens within the story itself, but you become so invested in the artist’s attempts to capture how he sees the world that in the end the audience becomes the subject.

In Paris 1964, famous sculpture artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) asks his American critic friend James Lord (Armie Hammer) to sit for a portrait. What was supposed to be a few days turns into months as Lord finds himself trapped inside the madness of the artist’s mind and life, but in the end discovers what makes Giacometti so talented.

I did not expect to become so enamoured by this kind of art film, feeling very much like Lord in the film who also did not expect to spend so much of his life on a portrait. You feel like you’re the one sitting for the portrait, and it evokes a weird mix of feelings – being the observer and the observed.

Based on his real life, what was most interesting about Giacometti was his staggering self-doubt about his work’s value to other people and to himself. We all know artists go through this, but to see someone with so much success still feel crippled by his insecurities was a fascinating watch, and Tucci is as good as he’s a director as he is an actor. 

He also lucked out by getting Geoffrey Rush onboard, who looks like the real-life Giacometti’s twin. Beyond the looks, Rush played his role with fervour and method acted his way into one of his best roles. Despite his dalliance with a prostitute and constant swearing at his artwork, you fall in love with this insane character that is relatable on many fronts.

Armie Hammer also evoked this intense class that is very typical of an affluent American in the 60s, and he isn’t bad to look at either. Although there was nothing wrong with his performance, it was the kind of role that could have been played by any pretty suave golden boy – all you really needed was Rush’s acting power.

I also enjoyed the women in the film – Giacometti’s prostitute girlfriend and his tolerant wife – who were played by Clémence Poésy and Sylvie Testud, both stunning French actresses. He obsesses over both of them in his own way and although neither women are content with the situation, they both remain strong in their reverence for and acceptance of a man whose real love is his art.

Final Portrait is both romantic and tragic in its depiction of the life of an artist who is never satisfied with his work – you both long for his kind of life as well as abhor it – and it makes for a confusing piece of art. Art connoisseurs and artists themselves will love the nakedness of this film and how it depicts the making of art, and perhaps like me you’ll just stumble upon its chaotic beauty and fall in love with it.



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