Alberto Giacometti was a tremendously influential 20th-century
Swiss sculptor and painter, whose works have sold for millions since his
death, but you wouldn't know any of that from the rather modest
surroundings of his Parisien residence in 1964.
In “Final Portrait,” Alberto (Geoffrey Rush) is an irascible
old man who sulks around his messy studio, constantly fussing with his
sculptures, because, literally, they're never done.
He has a long-suffering wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud), who puts up
with all his moods and yes, his shenanigans.
Lately he's been enamored with a local high-priced call girl,
Caroline (Clemence Poesy), and Annette is forced to just look the other
way, as if she's used to this. In
their rambling artist compound lives Alberto's brother, Diego (Tony
Shalhoub), himself a sculptor of much lesser talent, who's also accustomed
to Alberto's determined self-destruction.
He says Alberto isn't happy unless he's miserable.
Enter the mild-mannered James Lord (Armie Hammer), a well-to-do
young American who's determined to sit for a Giacometti portrait, but that
turns out to be easier said than done.
Alberto acts like the poster child for A.D.H.D.:
can't seem to focus on anything for very long, always skipping from
one unfinished project to the next, and stopping in his tracks for
whatever suits his fancy at that particular moment.
While James tries to set up a regular schedule for the portrait
sitting, Alberto is constantly undermining the process:
he doesn't feel like it that day.
He wants to take a walk. He
wants to go eat lunch, complete with several glasses of wine.
He wants to go be with Caroline.
(After enjoying her company more than her “handlers” wanted, he
happily pays them for her overtime.)
Alberto is always fussing with his cigarettes.
(He died at 64 of lung disease, less than two years after this
“final portrait.”) When the names of other artists are mentioned, he
doesn't have anything nice to say about them (including Chagall and
Picasso). He's always scolding
James to quit moving. So James
will sit there for hours, and Alberto will suddenly decide he doesn't like
what he's doing, and he'll wash over it with gray paint and start over the
next day. In fact, Alberto
starts over so many times that James wonders if he'll ever finish, until
James finally realizes that Alberto never really wants anything to be
“finished.” Because it
depresses him (“what better breeding ground for self-doubt than
success?”). He always wants
to look at his pieces as works-in-progress.
He's even been known to go back and burn sketches that he later
decided he was unhappy with----an impulsive act which horrifies James,
because he realizes the “market value” of what just went up in smoke,
but Alberto doesn't care about “popularity.”
He thinks that's a trap.
How can we learn to like someone this disagreeable?
We don't, really. But
like moths to a flame, we're drawn in to the brightness of his artistic
luminosity. His “bad boy”
behavior just enhances the image. He
says he's unable to control the Muse, or will it to come visit, and he
never knows when he'll start working in a way that seems satisfying to
him, at least temporarily. Yes,
his company can be a bit tiresome. And
his methods more than a little tedious.
But somehow Geoffrey Rush, as he did in “Shine,” makes us
believe he is a true genius at work. And
for that we'll put up with lack of charm.